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Halinka, by Mirjam Pressler, translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford; Henry Holt, 214 pages, $16.95 -- One of Germany's most acclaimed authors of children's fiction offers a most compelling story of a young girl living in a home for troubled girls in Germany after World War II. Abused by her mother, Halinka lives almost entirely inside her own head and her only connection to the world is her beloved Aunt Lou, who writes her letters and sometimes sends her money for train rides for weekend visits. Pressler vividly evokes the atmosphere of the children's home and with the alchemy available only to the greatest writers, only gradually makes the reader aware of just how distanced Halinka is from reality, as the child tentatively makes connections, and learns trust, in human beings again. Halinka, who bruises at the slightest touch but cleverly figures out how to put charcoal on her face to make herself look more pathetic while soliciting money for charity in a contest, and finally champions a younger girl against teasing, is a memorable and endearing heroine. -- Jean Westmoore

No Human Involved, by Barbara Seranella; Harper, $6.99 -- A strung-out waif-cum-ace auto mechanic, Munch Mancini, is trying to get clean and get her act together. But outside forces keep pushing her to the edge. -- Ed Kelly

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