Poet, essayist, and first-time novelist Major skillfully intertwines a wrenching modern-day narrative with an extended African-American family's richly textured oral history. It's Imani Moore's 17th birthday, but while her family waits at home with a celebration dinner, the girl is caught up in the troubles of her best friend Amanda Bresely. Amanda, abandoned by an abusive mother and a white father who denied paternity of his black child, is pregnant and--save for Imani and Imani's family--alone. Imani's loving home, meanwhile, is inhabited by three generations of women, ""the stairstep ladies,"" including Imani herself, who can see auras; her mother, Iree, who has epileptic visions; and Iree's adoptive mother, Ernestine, who--though blind--can feel colors and who weaves glorious tapestries that cover the walls of the house and bring light into the lives of all who enter it. As Imani and Amanda wander from the shoreline to a friend's apartment to a playground, Iree, Ernestine, Ernestine's brother Jeremiah, and Zulie and Al, who are effectively also part of the family, spin stories of the past. As they worry and wait over the course of a day and night, the elders relive (among other events) Imani's birth, the brutal murder of Ernestine's natural son Ezekiel (who loved Iree but was not Imani's father), and Amanda's mother's horrifying departure. Eventually, in a flash foreseen by Ernestine, Iree, and Imani--who, aside from their individual gifts, all have certain powers of compassion and healing--Amanda loses her baby. But as the past stories and the present one collide, Amanda finds at Imani's home a family she has been looking for in all the wrong places--and Imani understands with newfound appreciation the ultimate power of community. An impressive achievement: Newcomer Major is a writer to watch.