This aching debut explores a girl's coming-of-age in poverty-drenched mid-1970s New Orleans. Eight-year-old Sandrine Miller lives like a servant to her mother, Shirleen, a low-wage typist, and her mean-spirited grandmother, Mother Dear, both of whom keep Sandrine overloaded with chores despite her homework and eagerness to keep up good grades at school. Sandrine's main escape is visiting her father and his mother, Mamalita, in the country for the summer, but her dream of moving there is crushed when Mamalita dies, and her busy country doctor dad leaves Sandrine in the noncare of his girlfriend, Philipa, whose dotty daughter, Yolanda, is, to Sandrine's bookish disgust, more interested in boys than her education. Indeed, Sandrine feels wronged, especially by her mother, who holds Sandrine's light skin against her. As she grows, Sandrine finds empowerment in knowledge of her body (taught to her by an older classmate, Lydia, whose step-dad molests her) and the recognition that learning is her only escape from the defeating cycle of early pregnancy, poverty and general futility. There are echoes of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and Sandrine, with her fierce price [sic], is an instantly likable underdog.