At the start of Nell Zink's delightfully odd first novel, Mislaid, Peggy is a white, lesbian teenager in 1960s Virginia heading off to Stillwater College, a remote women's school, where she begins a strangely lusty affair with one of the few male faculty members, a famous gay poet. Their misguided, mismatched affair quickly results in a pregnancy and marriage, but after 10 years, Peggy is miserable and runs away, taking their three-year-old daughter and leaving their nine-year-old son, Byrdie.

Because her husband has threatened to have her committed, Peggy goes into hiding. She conveniently acquires a birth certificate from a recently deceased African-American girl child and rechristens her white-blonde daughter as Karen Brown, herself as Meg. "Maybe you have to be from the South to get your head around blond black people," writes Zink, but Meg and Karen, white as they are, do pass. A decade later, when Karen enters the University of Virginia on a minority scholarship as a freshman, Byrdie is a senior there and the two meet again. The ensuing drama of confused identities propels a broad cast of quirky, complex, lovable characters into odd scenarios.

Mislaid's pathos is charmingly funny, and a sentimental streak softens the sarcasm. Zink pulls no punches in portraying Virginia's mores and peculiarities. With its distinctively Southern setting and bizarre range of sincere men and women making their way in a weird world, Zink's novel captivates from the very first page. Readers may be tempted to blaze through this slim book in a single sitting. Comic, sympathetic, heartbreaking and outrageous, Mislaid is a wonderful, raucous book. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

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