The gifted author of Hating Alison Ashley (1985) makes a bow to Little Women in an incisive, often hilarious portrait of four sisters growing up in the Australia of the late 1940's, with both parallels and contrasts to Alcott's novel enriching her story. Like the Marches', the Mellings' poverty is a factor in their struggles to make do and to get along with their peers; Klein, too, reveals much through episodes focused on each of the girls. The Mellings, whose improvident father's behavior (attributed to WW I experiences) is bizarre and whose mother is lost in writing some sadly uninspired verse, are near the bottom of the scale--of which they are painfully aware. But though most of their attempts to be included with their social betters are doomed to failure, they are vital and imaginative, irrepressibly occupied with outrageous pranks, repartee, and rivalries--especially among themselves. Grace, Heather, Cathy, and Vivienne are distinctive and memorable; and, while their down-under vocabulary may give some readers pause, it's an integral part of the strongly evoked setting and often self-explanatory. The girls' rowdy in-fighting is fierce--exaggerated for humor but authentic; it also provides a foil for some touching final scenes that reveal their underlying loyalty and affection. And though much of the narrative is farcical and the episodic structure leaves some loose ends, it all adds up to a gritty, intriguing glimpse of a particular time and place.