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Couloumbis's (Getting Near to Baby ) winning, witty portrayal of a slightly neurotic American family encapsulates universal truths about family relationships. The narrator, 13-year-old Elvira, is horrified when her father leaves home after a quarrel, bound for an Elvis impersonation competition in Las Vegas even though Elvira's pregnant mother, Mel, wanted him to stay home. Elvira worries that he won't come back, but her concerns shift when, prompted by a dire phone call, Mel packs up Elvira and her younger sister, Kerrie, and drives everyone off to visit her long-estranged mother in Memphis. (Opening the door at six in the morning to a pregnant Mel arriving unannounced with the granddaughters she's never met, Mel's mother greets them flatly with, "He's left you.") Elvira, getting to know "the grandmother" (as Elvira thinks of her) and Mel's sister, Clare ("pronounced Clare-ree ," advises Elvira, "same accent on both syllables"), has ample opportunity to reflect on families, her own attitudes about being an older sister and daughter, and the origins of family rifts. Tart characterizations, lively dialogue and Elvira's frank narration keep this perceptive novel both credible and buoyant. Ages 8-12. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.