An uneven, offbeat and energetic tale, this first novel features Lucy McTavish, an intrepid, impatient orphan sent to live with her eccentric great-aunt in the Australian outback during the 1960s. Her adventures begin in a schoolyard of buzzing flies, malicious older kids and half-witted Crazy Wally, ``who is afflicted with ringworm and nits, who is covered, as always, in scabs and bruises.'' Lucy befriends Wally and later other ``emotional cripples'' while she escapes from the outback to a posh girls' school, a Sydney commune and an avante-garde circus. She's both fragile and courageous as she sasses her gangster boyfriend, the Boss, hides from the world or hurls herself at the trapeze. The evocative story is framed by Lucy's hallucinatory time travel to the Australia of her renegade ancestors. Though scrappy and intriguing, Davidson's characters, and the book itself, are cobbled together from elements that do not meld into a cohesive narrative. Oct.