Though it is not projected from the inside as are Elvis and Gripe's other, intimate portraits of younger children, an obviously autobiographical charge crackles throughout this odd, intense, introspective story of pre-adolescent Fredericka. And though it is less polished and less structured than the author's other fiction, the fierce emotional reality more than compensates--even when it gets knotted up in minute analyses of the heroine's motives and her devious manipulation of petty schoolyard politics. Briefly, the novel takes Fredericka, the formerly awkward and overlooked ""lummox,"" through a period of power-drunk but dissatisfied assertiveness when she dominates her classmates, fakes out all but one of her teachers, and impresses her controlling, no-nonsense mother. Then, almost despite, herself, Fredericka befriends the class figure of fun--a shy, cowering girl who has unaccountably become her shadow; typically, when she succeeds in giving Britt confidence and status she agonizes over everyone's crediting her and not Britt for the transformation. There are pages of obsessive self-questioning--about why she had changed, how she had changed, why she helped Britt, was she really bright? And it all takes her back to her mother--whose almost venomous characterization is the weakest, least convincing piece of the picture. However, resolved or not, the force of Fredericka's feelings is impressive. And, sublimated or not, this is surely Gripe's most direct expression of her longtime concern with roles, masks, and layers of the self.