First kisses and first tokes in the Lone Star state.

In "The Liars' Club," poet and Syracuse English professor Mary Karr tantalized readers with descriptions of her harrowing Texas childhood--an alcoholic, knife-wielding mother with a penchant for arson, and so forth. In "Cherry," Karr's back with (did you guess it from the title?) her sexual coming of age. We learn about her deep desire for "titties" (she gets them when she starts taking the pill, but her best friend fills a D Cup simply by devoting enough novenas to the cause), her choice to "give it up" to her James Dean boyfriend (his name's Phil, and he drives a two-tone Ford), and her forays into pot and psychedelics. We read of her blossoming, faintly eroticized friendship with Meredith, another bookish almost-misfit, and of her crush on the boy next door.

Because she's in hard-scrabble Texas, religion manages to pervade even the life of a 70s swinger as sophisticated as Karr: a neighbor's son shot himself while reading the Bible, and his bereaved mom lives to show off the "puckered" pages of Psalms stained with his blood. Young Mary watches Song of Bernadette on television, and prays fervently all summer for a best friend. But for Karr, growing up seems to involve not just getting laid, but also shedding these trappings of faith.

Readers may tire of Karr's love of the second-person, and they may wish the transition from nerdish spelling-bee champ to hip and happenin' druggie was clearer. But fans who read and reread "The Liars' Club" will be thankful for the sequel.

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