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A ponderous first-person narrative about the effects of mental illness on a family. The key that hangs on a chain around her neck serves as a constant reminder to 11-year-old Callie of the changes brought upon the Hoveler family after her father succumbs to depression. Until last summer, their family was much like any other--Dad went to work every day as a cabinetmaker, Mom stayed home in their big house in a nice section of San Francisco to take care of the kids. But now Callie must look after herself and six-year-old brother Rex in their small flat after school, until their mother returns from her bank job and their father finishes pushing papers at his brother-in-law's firm. The children are not allowed to leave the apartment, which leads to disobedience and a new friend for Callie, Nora, on the outside. Nora is also a ""latchkey kid,"" a recent immigrant from Hong Kong. The girls learn to communicate and when Callie tells Nora of her anger at her father's illness and the changes it has caused, Nora asks the simple question, ""What do you do to help?"" At this turning point, Callie begins to look for ways: cleaning the house, paying more attention to Rex, and, most importantly, taking charge of her father's emotional needs when her mother can't. Though recovery is still elusive, and the book's end is far from pat, the strength Callie gains through Nora's friendship and wisdom infects the entire family and the story concludes on a hopeful note. Terris' novel is always interesting, her characters deftly drawn and the relationships among them realistic and well-handled. But this is a story for only the most mature readers; one wonders if there are enough 11-year-olds capable of understanding the novel's complexities, or if older kids will want to read about a younger protagonist. The first-person-present narration may make this tough going for younger readers.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux