Tiny, lucid first novel about two girls who navigate the shoals of puberty--and escape the dangers of a terrible, mean, cruel father. In a wry but deadpan voice, the younger of two sisters (the older is getting breasts) narrates the events of the summers of 1964 and 1965, when the girls' parents at last split up. Mother teaches dance at a local studio, and father, with a shiny metal plate in the back of his head (``My mother says something happened to our father in the war but my sister says he is just mean''), hangs around the house and yard in a state of barely suppressed rage, often being cruel, sometimes drinking too much (this makes him prone to shoot his pistol), and on occasion (as at the end, when he attempts to kidnap his daughters) flying into real, wild violence. As the storm of their repressive father's irrationality slowly brews, the girls live their own carefully guarded, small, private lives, sneaking swims in a neighbor's above-ground pool (it has slugs in it), quarreling endlessly (along with scratches and punches), escaping on pretend-journeys in the burned-out car on the lawn (where their father sometimes sleeps, his feet sticking out the window), and stealing away at night to meet up with local boys. There's a small dog that adds a droll and often touching humor, an eerie episode of a sheep (father kills and then burns it), and a once-pet rabbit that lost its tail and now keeps to itself, though never going far from the yard (``Lily is wild but she is still ours''). Father's kidnap attempt, with car and gun and bullets and daughters, is, like everything else here, skillfully understated and vividly told. Small, spare pleasures aplenty, albeit in a tale as worn and familiar as a soft old glove.