Sofie Laguna, Author . Scholastic $15.95 (202p) ISBN 978-0-439-64485-3

Tina Wendle's parents take a three-week Paris vacation and leave her and her younger brothers, Vince and Aidan, in the care of her father's sister, Marsha, a relative who makes Roald Dahl's Aunts Spiker and Sponge (from James and the Giant Peach ) seem benevolent. Marsha is not only a bad cook (the kidney pie "taste[s] like cooked spew"), she's joyless and mean. She exiles Vince's beloved pup, which sleeps on his bed, to the backyard just when he needs her most and tosses out Aidan's precious comic books as "rubbish." As the long-suffering older sister, Tina, who frequently mentions she'll be "twelve in three months," is accustomed to playing peacemaker, but even she's about to crack. The weekends are torture. "I wanted Monday morning to come more than I wanted to turn twelve." As the weeks wear on, Tina's narration shifts from comic mock-horror to true despair—there's an undercurrent of real fear about abandonment that edges this black comedy with poignancy. Marsha is so broadly drawn that her 11th-hour conversion rings a bit hollow, but it will probably come as relief to readers. Laguna's (Too Loud Lily ) novel would be a dangerous choice to read aloud—it's enough to make a parent vow never to go away without the kids again. Ages 9-12. (Feb.)