A book, a friend, and a piece of sculpture put small cracks in the shell that an abused Polish-German foster child has built around herself, but Pressler allows only very observant readers to glimpse the hurt that shell was built to contain. Hoping that her Aunt Leu will find a way to secure custody of her, Halinka makes the best of a constricted, dreary group home placement, keeping a notebook and other tokens in a secret hideaway, lingering over her favorite book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and carefully avoiding thoughts of her mother and her past. To the surreptitious pleasures of sneaking away at night to write and passing herself off as a beggar--both to gather more donations for a charity fund drive and to get a little extra for herself--Halinka adds the unexpected benefits of companionship when she shares a hoarded chocolate bar with a troubled roommate. And she has an epiphany of sorts when she visits a park and is profoundly affected by a particular statue's beauty. Throughout, she casually mentions scars, bruises, sudden bouts of weeping or nausea, and moments of rage--clues to an inner turmoil that she neither shares nor effectively confronts herself. Thus distanced, readers may admire Halinka for her resilience, but can't honestly care about her. An unwieldy cast inhabits the sketchily laid-out post-WWII setting.