'I learned about conflict from my parents.' So begins Christina McKenna's haunting memoir of her lonely early life. Recounting scenes from her childhood in Ulster, she paints a memorable and poignant picture of violence and oppression with her brutal father and protective mother, whose retalliation to her husband's meaness came in the form of a secret yellow dress. Her formative years and her foray into the world, which begin with the daily trudge to and from school, are peopled by a troupe of bizarre and unforgettable characters dancing in and out of her life, filling her with awe and wonder. Among them are Miss McKeague, a gentle, calm and graceful religious zealot, Great Aunt Rose, the 'Yankees', Norrie the transvestite and, in the wings, her stern, unyielding uncles, each vying for the ancestral money and land to the exclusion of all else. At age eleven, she experiences a frightening supernatural occurrence, a prolonged haunting that confirms for her the reality of the spirit world. Though it affects her deeply, she later learns to channel her confusion into twin artistic passions: poetry and painting. The discordant nature of Christina McKenna's young life, and the feelings of inferiority it bred, lead her to examine all the limiting belief systems she grew up with, and question the validity of the hidebound Catholicism of her childhood. This is a rite-of-passage account of two generations of Irish women, told with great humour and compassion. On the one hand is the writer; on the other the heroic mother who showed her love as best she could. McKenna concludes that our past, no matter how painful, need not keep us bound - once we choose love over hate. That choice, she suggests, will set us free.