A passionate first novel about racial injustice, corrosive secrets, and the unexpected resilience of the hard-pressed. Rose of Sharon is, as the story begins, without much hope: Her only child has died; her abusive husband, Darnell, spends most of his time ranting about black conspiracies; and her ancient mother is withdrawing into reveries of the past. When Darnell and his Klan cronies kill a black man who has had the temerity to go fishing repeatedly in their all-white Alabama county (it's the 1980s, but in Prince George County it might as well be the 1940s), Rose does nothing, until she is challenged by a newcomer, the brash, free- spirited Lily. Also harassed by an abusive husband, Lily--who's critical of the sheriff's investigation of the murder--leaves him and takes a lover, an activist who has come to the area to open an alternative school. When tragedy overtakes Lily, Rose finally finds the strength to leave her own husband and speak out, defying her community for the sake of justice. Hill deftly weaves together a number of subplots, among them the long history of racial violence in the county, going back to ``the Trouble'' in 1914, when the white residents drove the entire black population out, burning down homes and killing those who fought back. A series of figures, including the bright, reticent Rose, the audacious Lily, their violent husbands, an elderly black minister whose parents had once lived in the county, and a decent young white man whose religious faith (vividly rendered) moves him to expose the county's bloody history and challenge its beliefs, narrate the action. The voices occasionally slip into a sameness, and they seem at times a bit too rhetorically charged to be entirely believable. Nonetheless, Hill is a deft storyteller: He keeps the story moving propulsively forward and offers a climactic battle for justice that is stirring and persuasive. And in Rose he has created an iconoclastic, moving heroine.