A posthumous first novel offers a refreshingly intelligent and wry take on a girl growing up with a less than ideal mother in small-town Pennsylvania during the late '30s and '40s. Nancy Sayers never knew who her father was because her mother Georgia found life easier if she ignored harsh realities. The gossip about her affair with married coworker Carl, who fathered Nancy, didn't worry her as much as the way she missed him when he moved away. Other men succeeded him, and Georgia was soon known as the town slut—which was no small embarrassment to Nancy, of course, who was often harassed at school. Now 17 and about to embark on a new life in Philadelphia, she looks back over her growing-up years with Georgia, spent largely in a small apartment above the local drug store. Unlike so many protagonists of the genre, Nancy behaves with consistent smarts, even if it means coming to grips with her own romantic proclivities or accepting Georgia for what she is. When Eddie, the carnival novelty salesman, moves in, Nancy, mortified and angry, goes to live with Aunt Cora, who is all the things Georgia is not. At school, Nancy, an avid reader, aspiring poet, and gymnast, endures her classmates' teasing by compiling lists of insults that she has memorized. When she's back again with Georgia, after Cora's husband comes home from WW II, Eddie gets Nancy a weeklong gig as Rhonda the Rubber Woman, the contortionist at a visiting show. Her career doesn't pan out, nor does her teenage love affair with handsome Bob, for reasons she discovers only much later, but a brief encounter with Philadelphia's intelligentsia gives a new sense of direction and purpose to her life. And a surprisingly maternal act by Georgia helps Nancy forgive and understand her. A touching coming-of-age novel both wise and generous.