Dreams and disillusionment in a grim, working-class English resort-village--as a ten-year-old girl's magical summer of 1952 brings on her chilly entry into the autumnal world of adult betrayals, Veronica is a cool and watchful little being, and things are fairly drab in her circle: pretty, restless mother Nancy; plodding father Jack; and their dreadful neighbors, the Spencers. But then, into all these lives, comes Charlie--by-blow of a late and unlamented family friend, a young man who seems to make up his own rules and doesn't seem to ""belong"" anywhere, a great one for treats, surprises, and popping in uninvited. Charlie calls Vernoica ""Princess."" He dubs that loud-mouthed, mother-spoiled brat Margaret Rose Spencer ""Betty Grable."" And even disgusting Ronnie Spencer--a bandy-legged, abused bedwetter who only spends holiday-time with his ugly, fierce mother--gets the title of ""Colonel."" Indeed, like a spring wind, Charlie stirs up the banked passions of those eager to love: Nancy, ready for resurrection, defeated Ronnie, shocked into life by attention and affection; and Veronica, who finds that real love, like hers for Charlie, cannot be learned the way you learn verbs. But summer will end forever, abruptly, as chance (and nasty Margaret Rose) brings seedy police sniffing around Charlie's Borstal past--and, as Charlie flees (without timid Nancy), Veronica learns of the carnal nature of the Charlie/Nancy affair. The dream is smashed, the world becomes small and tight. Conlon writes with a caring, crafty attention to the desperate passions of insecure adults, but also to the immaculate, if uncollated, perceptions of the wise child: a luminous, touching novel by the author of the far less compelling A Move in the Game (1979).