Narrated by the protagonist, a young girl (at 8, 13 and 14), in her crossroads times in Manhattan and Chicago of the 50's and 60's, an open-faced coming-of-age novel, generous in surface recognitions of the child's and teen's world, but sensational and predictable in situations touching on large matters--such as racial prejudice, injustice, death, etc. Since the presumably accidental death of her mother, Alison Walters has lived with her father and Lucy, the black housekeeper she adores, in their Manhattan apartment. Summers are spent in a quiet section of Chicago with paternal grandparents--kind, joking Grandpa; cold, stiff Grandma; fat, browbeaten Aunt Belle; and oddly remote, aging Cousin Hannah. When Alison, by chance, opens an old trunk and finds baby clothes, Hannah's mind finally cracks--in public--and she's sent away. Beloved Lucy will be sent away too, thanks to prejudiced Grandma's insistence, after that wonderful night with Lucy in Harlem during a snowstorm, and a missed phone call. At thirteen, back with grandparents, Alison leaves friend Susie basking on the beach and sneaks off to visit Hannah in the mental hospital--but Hannah, trapped in madness and grief, explodes in rage and never tells Alison something important about her mother. Alison is not pleased, that summer, at the marriage of Father and Hilary--an industrial psychologist, who seems to turn everything ""into a subject for scientific study."" At fourteen, Alison travels with Father and Hilary back to Chicago for Grandpa's funeral. It is then, at one crack, that she learns: the truth about her mother's ""crime"" and her death; the reason her maternal grandparents will not see her; and the tragedy of Hannah's mixed-racial marriage. Seared by these revelations, Alison kidnaps a baby--for poor Hilary, who's had a series of miscarriages. Alison winds up in Harlem in search of Lucy, and a church meeting there brings her around. Although the day-to-day domestica and street scenes are attractive and familiar, the larger picture bristles with coincidence and near-stereotypical characters. In all: just too patty-cake pat.