Betty Hicks, Author . Millbrook/Roaring Brook $15.95 (176p) IS

Like her I Smell Like Ham, Hicks pens another engaging novel about the ups and downs of living in a family formed from two second marriages. "Elizabeth" to her beautiful and proper mother (an efficiency expert who travels frequently for business), "Liz" to her laid-back father and stepmother (with whom she lives), and "Iz" to her three energetic stepbrothers, the narrator candidly asks, "So, who am I?" Balancing humor and pathos, the author chronicles 11-year-old Iz's quest to answer that question while dealing with dilemmas of varying proportions. She and her stepsiblings launch a "Get-a-Dog" plan, aimed at breaking down their parents' resistance to a pet that can't be left alone on weekends. Their scheme entails ensuring that the family menagerie (turtle, hedgehog, lizard and more) becomes so bothersome that a pooch will seem like an appealing alternative (their research about what animals prey on which other animals results in some comical exchanges). Alas, their plot has several unforeseen consequences: the hedgehog dies after the kids alter its diet, and one of the boys contracts a potentially serious disease from a newly acquired parrot. In a further complication, Iz's mother decides to quit her job so that her daughter can live with her ("I knew I didn't want to live with my mother, but I couldn't tell her that... could I?") and attempts to lure her with plans of getting a dog. Readers will warm to this perky young protagonist and the members of her appealingly chaotic household. Ages 10-14. (Apr.)