At the end of this well-crafted novella, when 13-year-old Polly and her mother finally share a companionable meal and level with each other, Polly compares the game in Ellis's title with her new insight into their relationship: ""You pull out one stick and the balance shifts and the whole pattern changes."" Mum has just confided that, even before Polly was conceived, she understood that she didn't want to be married but she did want to bear and raise a child; and though the story has turned on their temporary estrangement, it's clear that the two constitute a richly individual family strengthened by their mutual regard. The rift is precipitated by their eviction from their low-rent home. Anxious and exasperated by Mum's sporadic attempts to find a new place, Polly opts to stay with Mum's brother and his family while Mum moves into the studio where she supports them by making stained glass. Affluent Uncle Roger provides his family with plenty of material things, but at his house there's none of the warm interaction that has nurtured Polly; a terrifying outing with her teenage cousin, which turns out to be a shoplifting and vandalism spree, quickly sends Polly back to a reconciliation with her mother. Crass Uncle Roger and his self-indulgent wife and daughter are one-dimensional foils for Polly, but other characters--including a sweet, retarded adult friend--are the kind of unique, well-rounded personalities readers expect from this fine Canadian author (A Family Project, 1988). A memorable portrait of a mother and daughter maturing and growing closer as the result of a challenging experience.