Fifteen-year-old Frankilee's sense of justice leads her to conspire with her mother to kidnap Angelica Musseldorf from a home where there is every evidence she has been consistently beaten and abused. With reluctant cooperation from her father, they take the girl in, confront the parents, and install her in Frankilee's room for an indefinite stay. Angelica, who asks to be called Angel, is not only scarred, but needy--indeed, over time, demanding. As her parents shower her new roommate with attention, clothing, lessons, Frankilee struggles with her deepening resentments. She confides them to Wanita, the family cook, an African American whose long service to the family has given her a place of special affection.

When Wanita's son is killed in an accidental shooting, Wanita abandons the family for a time; she returns, sorrowful, but steady, to see Frankilee through her own trauma. Suspicions aroused, Frankilee decides to do some detective work with the help of a reluctant boyfriend, and discovers that Angel's "parents" are an aunt and uncle with a criminal record in fraud; they have staged abuse in order to situate their orphaned niece with unsuspecting families of means who will take on the expense of her upbringing and education. In her efforts to expose the fraud, Frankilee is attacked by the aunt who is, in fact, violent, but she survives with some stitches and a sobering sense of what it might mean to be both kind and discerning in offering help.


Though the central complication of this story--a complicated fraudulent scheme perpetrated by a family over a period of years--can seem far-fetched, and the child they exploit in that scheme overdrawn, two of its characters make the story memorable and rich. Frankilee, the adolescent narrator, speaks her mind with a colorful frankness reminiscent, in its way, of Holden Caulfield. Brought up in a pious Texas Baptist family, her struggles to be "good" and charitable vie with a practical intelligence and self-awareness that eventually win out against sentimental piety and lead her into a much more sophisticated understanding of what real mercy might demand.

Wanita, the African-American cook, is especially memorable in her grieving for her lost son, and in her own struggles to come to terms, in that grief, with her anger at the white community that led him into danger. Since the child involved in the fraud is, in fact, being abused, though not as Frankilee's family believed, she also raises some interesting issues about what it might mean to help a young victim of abuse who is not simply pathetic, but also psychologically damaged, narcissistic, and understandably angry.



Place Published

Grand Rapids, Mich.



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