Whimsical characters and charm make for an amiable diversion.
Hallie Palmer, 16, spends much of her free time at the track. Or at the clandestine weekly poker game in the church basement. Or at the local Indian casino—until her age is revealed. She’s no compulsive gambler, just a whiz with numbers. Forget college. As soon as she can afford her own car, she’s off to Vegas. Feeling ostracized at school, crowded at home (Mother is pregnant with her eighth child), and weary of her parents’ expectations, Hallie can’t wait for her day of departure. After she loses a bundle at the track—there goes her Vegas car—she answers an ad for yard help at the Stockton estate, and the fun begins. In the old rambling “manse” live Ms. Olivia, a political Auntie Mame, her husband The Judge (a Colonel Sanders look-a-like in the last stages of Alzheimer’s), her son Mr. Bernard (an unabashedly poufy antiques dealer), Bernard’s husband Mr. Gil (Hallie thinks of him as the normal one, until he gives her a “reading” based on the condition of her teeth), and Rocky (an alcoholic chimp). In one fell swoop, Hallie gets the job, drops out of school, and runs away from home (she sleeps in the Stocktons’ summer house). Problems need to be sorted out—the truant officer, her parents—but the story lies in the way Hallie blooms under the Stocktons’ care, receiving a world-class education in the art of eccentricity. Ms. Olivia writes pornography for pin money, Rocky mixes the evening cocktails, Bernard and Gil school Hallie on old movies, antiques, fine food, and how to walk like Audrey Hepburn. Pedersen has created a wonderful assemblage of characters in the Stocktons—if only something of more substance were going on.
Funny, sweet-natured and well-crafted, but perhaps suited best to a YA audience.