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A coming-of-age novel set in rural Mississippi during the 1960s offers up such potentially juicy elements as racial strife, religious fanaticism, child abuse, and grown-up duplicity, yet proves disappointingly ""young adult"" in perspective and style. Haines, who has written several novels under a pseudonym, takes as her narrator 13-year-old Bekkah Rich, who may look like any other kid living on Kali Oka Road outside of Jexville, Miss., but who is in several significant ways atypical. Daughter of a children's book author and a college professor, Bekkah is destined by brains as well as background for a larger world that few of her playmates will ever see. Nevertheless, in the summer of 1963, that world makes an appearance on Kali Oka Road in two quick, successive strokes: Zombielike members of the Blood of the Redeemer Church move into the abandoned Live for Christ Church quarters nearby; and the old, deserted McInnis plantation is taken over by a shockingly eccentric, bleached-blond horse owner named Nadine Andrews. Curiosity tempts Bekkah to spy on the weird ""Redeemers,"" and her passion for horses leads her to sign up as Nadine's stable hand, despite stern orders from her mother to the contrary. As the summer slowly passes and Bekkah's liberal parents face their own first battles in the civil rights war, the teen discovers horrifying goings-on that seem to include the selling of babies, the beating of children, the torture of animals, the seduction of minors, and, finally, the murder of an innocent child. Haines's evocation of a particular place and time are certainly masterful, but her melodramatic plot is severely hindered by her narrator's early-adolescent point of view. Bekkah's simple heart gets in the way of what might otherwise have been a gripping story, leaving the reader wanting more.

Pub Date: June 9th, 1994
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Dutton