An enigmatic, powerful novel about a seventh-grade boy who is enthralled by an itinerant evangelist in the rural South. Pete, unlike his parents, has been an ardent churchgoer for years, but when the Preacher Man (James W. Carson) arrives, he becomes a born-again Christian and agrees to run away with Carson as his disciple, although he agonizes over abandoning his parents and best friend Rufus, a professed atheist. But the Biblical parallel suggested by the names is reversed: Carson betrays Pete by skipping town with Darlene, the soda-fountain clerk, while Rufus is the supportive friend who waits patiently for Pete to recover from his infatuation. Pete does; yet although he has lost his enthusiasm for formal religion, his underlying faith in God is unshaken, even strengthened. He discards the ""Fine white dust"" of the ceramic cross broken when the Preacher left because he's ""ready for something whole."" Rylant has explored a theme vital to many young people but rare in children's books By eliminating any description of doctrine beyond Pete's love of Jesus and fear of hell. she leaves the reader free to consider the broader meaning of religion and the nature of a charlatan. Simply but beautifully written, Pete's encounter with the Preacher Man is a tale with enough suspense to hold readers till the end.