With some justice, the publishers compare this intense first novel about racial injustice in the 1950's to The Summer of My German Soldier and Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; while not as inexorably structured as those landmark books, it does make a strong, authentic statement. Sent to visit her aunt and uncle in Macon, Georgia, Marty (12) finds that she is considered too old to continue her friendships with local ""negroes."" Nonetheless, she secretly becomes friends with Ludie, a young black woman who cannot speak and has a terribly scarred face (the result of a fire), yet has dignity and intelligence and is a fine artist. Trying to get recognition for Ludie, Marty passes her lovely drawings off as her own. The resulting tangle is superceded by more serious events: local toughs, believing that Marty is involved with Ludie's brother Chili, beat him, kidnap and almost rape her, force a written confession, and plan a lynching. The cruel, angry small-town climate where racism is nurtured and handed on to the next generation is well-realized here. Marty's willingness to rethink racial issues in light of her own conscience is believable; her innocence of local custom is less so. Ludie's eleventh-hour rescue of Chili and Marty provides a startling turn towards hope in a story that seems headed for tragedy from its first page, and the mellowing of some of the adults at the end is at odds with the characters they exhibited earlier. Still, this is a dramatic, vivid portrayal--from the point of view of a white girl--of the hazards of compassion in the rural South. An unusually attractive jacket by Jerry Pinkney will help draw readers.