Upset by her father's illness and hospitalization, feeling cramped in the new project apartment, and repeatedly careless in cooking class, Rainey Brandt has no outlet for her frustrations, and her always-smiling mother and self-adjusting sister just aggravate the malaise. Dad's occasional weekends home (nervous breakdown?) are dismal and add to her discomfort. But then Puerto Rican Anita, who's also temporarily fatherless and lives in the next building, is some consolation at school and black Louella next door, a professional cook, has philosophical recipes for all kinds of problems. The plot is quite intricate--culture contrast, family friction, a mounting cooking complex--but it's all working toward the finish line: Rainey accidentally sets herself on fire, thus shocking her ""cured"" but unmotivated father into action, which breaks down her no-tears barrier. Dreary despite a few bright moments.