In another_novel about the rural South by the author of Nelda (1987), a 12-year-old black boy is caught in a web of injustice that is exacerbated by his legitimate anger--and becomes the inspiration for his nine-year-old white friend to work toward change. A generation after the Civil War, Little John (who is a farmer's son) and Pluto (who does odd jobs at John's grandmother's boardinghouse) make friends when John and his mother come to Gran's after his father disgracefully loses the family savings. John--overprotected because both his brothers died young; worried about his own mortality and his responsibility for his mother's happiness--is charmed by Pluto's bravado, cheerful nature, and willingness to take risks; when John's mother suffers a miscarriage, the two boys ""borrow"" a mule to go find John's father, thus effecting a reconciliation. The pretty jacket and cute title misrepresent a serious story: as a result of taking the mule, Plutie is brutally whipped by a white gang and is probably headed for the state prison where his brother, wrongfully charged, was killed at the age of 14; John's father's heroism in defending Plutie may lose him his new job. An honest look at raccial prejudice, with the loose ends allowing the reader a measure of hope, as well as provoking valuable questions.