Set in the 1970s and narrated by Bobbie, a 14-year-old runaway junkie, this stinging and gritty first novel recounts the youngster's education in crime and romance. After he's caught stealing to support his drug habit, Bobbie comes under the wing of cynical but highly intelligent master criminal Mel. He soon takes off with Mel, Mel's girlfriend, Sid, and his own girl, Rosie, on a violent crime spree that takes them through Chicago, Denver, L.A. and Indianapolis. On the way, our hero learns from doomed 17-year-old Rosie that making love ""is much more intense than fucking"" and from Mel and Sid that in a fancy restaurant people aren't ""talking, [they're] conversing. Not eating, [they're] dining.... It scares the shit out of me."" He also learns how to crack a safe and develops an addiction to heroin. Little charts Bobbie's progress from self-pity to self-awareness to wary hope in tensile prose that strikes true with authentic street argot and unflinching observations of a level of society that, as an ex-con and ex-junkie, he knows well. If some of Bobbie's observations are a bit highfalutin' for an uneducated 14-year-old (mean rooms are ""furnished in early desperation""), his matter-of-fact account of life on the wrong side of the law, told with whiz-bang pacing, is gripping. At the end, after addiction and violence have taken their toll, Bobbie hits rock bottom and slowly rebounds. We expect that Bobbie will become a mensch like his mentor, Mel, and hope that Little will let us hear from him again. (Jan.) FYI: Little now runs We Care, an L.A.-based charity that serves housebound AIDS patients and elderly shut-ins.