The author of the much-praised Sweet Creek Holler (1988, ALA Notable) returns to her native Appalachia for a mellower, less melodramatic story about a bittersweet coming of age in the 1950's. When Tiny enters high school, her troubles are real: Mama, trapped by poverty in a loveless marriage to Tiny's stepfather, Vern--coal miner, drunk, and all-around clod--is so ""awfully unhappy"" that she is almost dysfunctional; long friendless, Tiny finds comfort in Willa, an imaginary mother-friend. Beyond hope, high school goes well: she soon has two friends to giggle with, and happily bestows her unrequited affection on the new hand teacher. Meanwhile, she fails to evade Vein's avid attentions--he catches her alone and rapes her--but, in time, she has the courage to regain her balance. Her friendships deepen; there's a first boyfriend, and then the blossoming of her long camaraderie with nice Cecil next door; and when, senior year, Vein threatens her little sister, Tiny tells Mama, who rises to the occasion with spunk that transforms the entire family. With the exception of Vein, who is more weak and self-deluding than evil, the men here are ciphers: Cecil has only good qualities, while most of the rest have abandoned their women in one way or another. But the women are splendidly realized--a fey old neighbor; Mama, who has been tentatively reaching out well before she's galvanized by Tiny's news; Tiny herself, sensitive, vulnerable, but a tough survivor. Beautifully written, heartwarming, and--ultimately--joyous.