Frisky but familiar-toned first novel about a precocious 14-year-old girl, her little half-sister, and their ne'er-do-well mother. Charlotte's mother (Charlotte calls her only ""Mrs. Flax"") is ever on the move, going from town to town (and man to man) across the US, but as the book opens she arrives in the town of Grove, in New England, and it looks as if she and her little family may be going to stay a while: living in their rented house, Mrs. Flax goes about the business of her amorous affairs; Charlotte yearns for the return of her missing father (she calls him ""Our Father Who Art in Heaven"") and wishes she could become a saint (""I didn't want to be like Mrs. Flax; I wanted to be virtuous. But with half of her chromosomes, I didn't know what I was supposed to do""); and little sister Kate swims on her school team, washes her rock collection, soaks in the bathtub, and reads assiduously in Fish of the World. What's to happen? Well, up on the hill next door happens to stand the Convent of the Protectors of Blessed Souls, where Charlotte, sneaking through the gate, becomes something of a habitual. In fact, on a single eventful day, Our Father finally does come to Grove (though Mrs. Flax manages never to bring him home to see her daughters); Charlotte surrenders her virginity to the good Joe Peretti, hired man at the convent; and little Kate almost drowns in the chill convent pond. Result? As good as could be hoped: Kate survives; the sensitive Joe Peretti decides to move away for a while; Charlotte isn't pregnant; and it seems that Lou, a local storekeeper, has ""been proposing to my mother around the clock."" Often straining for its breakneck patter of meaningful cuteness, the book stumbles also on moments of pure gold--the Mother Superior's long monologue about her left-behind life, or Charlotte's imaginary life as a cowboy (""We slept out, and my mother told us the stars were waiting in their places like ballerinas""). An energetic talent that offers, in all, more pleasures than debits.