The author of To Fly a Kite (1986) and Bracken (1984)--inspirational fantasies featuring the institutionalized, the terminally ill, etc., all of whom make good against the odds--has her hand in the sugarpot again, ladling up the sweetness in this story of an abused runaway named Johnnie Ross. Johnnie is 12, blond, with haunting good looks, partially deaf, and covered with bruises inflicted by his mother's lover, Big Joe. When ""the Welfare lady,"" Maggie Fraser, and a local painter, Bill Hamilton, gain entry to Johnnie's tortured world, they find him a surprisingly resilient chap with a remarkable aptitude for drawing. Still, the courts send him back to his sluttish mother and to the inevitable final set-to with Big Joe, who dies in a fall down stairs, leaving Johnnie to think himself a murderer. Thus begins the boy's pilgrimage to find his real father, an oil rig engineer at work somewhere on the North Sea. Johnnie's trip reads like a children's board game: first there's Bedford Bob to take him along in his truck; then Tin Can Charlie, a hobo who serves him a plate of of rabbit stew; then helpful oil-men who send him on a futile detour to the Shetland Islands and back to South Wales, where Johnnie learns that his dad has just died in an accident offshore. But the boy lands on his feet, nonetheless, with Maggie and Bill finding him at last, marrying, and taking him into fosterage. Too contrived to tug at the heartstrings--and Johnnie is more a Pre-Raphaelite fancy than a realistically rendered abused child. In fact, the rosy hue coming off this confection is just about blinding.