Orphaned and placed as an infant in the hands of an unlikely relative with whom her mother fleetingly found happiness, Catherine Buckingham grows up in Detroit during the Depression watched over by Thorn Wade, an entomologist whose style of child-raising is liberatingly ""without a net."" So Catherine develops almost grotesquely independent, aware, curious--and conversely deaf to social convention. At age ten she's dining alone in a hotel dining room; even at highschool age (she always was educated at home) she gives not a fig for dressing up, flirting, doing the girl things that Price, in her best stroke, shows everyone else doing: a life of artificiality that makes Catherine, by contrast, seem a freak. Only Thorn really understands her, and as she matures understanding turns into something a little hotter. But they can't go on this way; Thorn leaves for Europe, Catherine goes to a dumb college in Iowa, then on to an editorial job in Boston and a fledgling career as a writer. Without Thorn, though, she's a ship without a sail; courted and by sheer doggedness captured by an older man (yet another acquaintance of her mother's, though a frustrated one), she seems to have given up her specialness until. . . Thorn! Back from the dead. Price is too good a writer for happily-ever-after endings, though she does flirt with one; the book is best earliest on, Catherine's remarkable growing-up. Finely written, whole chunks of this second novel are dedicated warmly to the proposition of indefatigable character--and that's very nourishing.