By Jennifer Reese
Updated February 22, 2006 at 05:00 AM EST

The heavy-handed lyricism of Alice Greenway’s short, sharp debut, White Ghost Girls, belies its stark subject matter. Narrator Kate and her rebellious older sister Frankie are growing up in Hong Kong while their father, a photojournalist, covers the Vietnam War. He loves Asia — the smells, the sweat, the glamorous exoticism. But Greenway imbues his adolescent daughters’ world with palpable sexual anxiety and sometimes hammy portents of disaster: Their Chinese nanny calls them ”little whores”; they fish a worm-eaten corpse out of the river while swimming; a sinister stranger fondles Frankie in a butcher shop. You know early on that something terrible lies in store for these girls, and its arrival — which breaks Greenway’s carefully cultivated tension — comes almost as a relief.