A surprisingly awkward novel from Pinkney (Bill Pickett, 1996, etc.) about the comings and goings in an African-American family; it captures the pace of life in a small town in upstate New York at the cost of losing readers along the way. As she has for the last six summers, Nell, 12, enjoys staying with her great aunt, Ursa, and 14-year-old son Foley, especially this year, when Foley's friend Slade Montgomery has blossomed into a handsome, smooth-talking charmer. The idyll goes sour when Slade produces a Raven .25 handgun, persuades Nell to hide it in her old dollhouse, and is shortly thereafter found dead. Just before the funeral, Foley takes the gun and is seen hopping a train, leaving town just as his father, Slade's father, Nell's father Wes, and Wes's father had done. Nell narrates, and Foley obviously suffers a profound shock, but Ursa's losses and internal conflicts occupy the story's emotional center. Talky, slow, and off the mark, this tale requires readers to get past the plot contrivances and logical gaps--Ursa opens the dollhouse but doesn't find the gun because the dog has removed it, and is unaware that Slade is the third teenager in the county shot in the past year--and to penetrate Ursa's wooden, long-winded utterances for the genuine emotions beneath. Cumulatively, the adults have far more presence than the younger generation, several important events are reported rather than seen, and Nell is largely an observer.