May 16, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

It’s Survival of the Meanest in Special, a black-as-night debut novel of female adolescence. On a two-week field trip to the English countryside, a group of bored and bad-tempered 13-year-old girls sneak out in search of chemical annihilation and sexual attention. Despite her protagonists’ boundless teen rage and self-loathing, Bella Bathurst draws rich, surprisingly sympathetic portraits of confused girls who, in less skilled hands, would quickly deteriorate into mere types. Their restlessness and frustration are palpable as they circle each other like sharks, sussing out vulnerabilities until their ”slow corrosive pickpickstabstab of claim and counter-claim” finally explodes in a string of discoveries and disasters. The savage little castaways of ”Lord of the Flies” have nothing on these girls.

You May Like