This distinguished first novel chronicles six months in the life of the troubled Daley family. Ian, 11, lives on his struggling father's small Vermont farm. His mother has abandoned them; his older brother is uncommunicative, and his verbally abusive father has never shown much interest in his quiet, younger son. Fortunately, Ian's days are brightened by school, where a sympathetic teacher helps him express himself through writing. The entire farming community begins to experience a problem with stray electrical currents that serves as a metaphor for the unpredictable nature of the Daley men's feelings. As tensions worsen, the boy grows increasingly disaffected until the night his drunken father deliberately sets fire to their barn with the cows inside. Ian then finds the courage to stand up to him and rescues the animals. Although many situations remain realistically unresolved, including the relationship between father and son, Ian has learned that he has the strength to survive. The author uses metaphors most effectively, as when she compares the family to hurt, silent dogs that are going through the motions, surviving, but waiting to be kicked. The raw language is appropriate, given the anger and desperation of the characters. The author's obvious understanding of the young adolescent mind makes this a fine choice for reluctant readers.