Lumbering in on the heels of his highly acclaimed debut, Way Past Cool (1992), Mowry unloads a ponderous tale about African- American youth in peril--as lavish in its attention to lingo as it is weakly plotted. In the tiny Mississippi community of Bridge-End, a cluster of cabins on a decaying road to nowhere, Corbitt and his buddies Lamar and Toby are learning about sex and race, while on the mean streets of Oakland, California, boy-mountain Lactameon (``Tam'') skillfully maneuvers his bulk through the maze of tight squeezes and close calls that his neighborhood offers its children. With Corbitt's father just jailed for fighting Bates, an old racist pedophile across the river, Corbitt feels the burden of lingering racism more acutely than his sidekicks and eventually tangles with the white man--an encounter that proves fatal when Bates's shotgun fires. Tam has his share of troubles, too, when the gang claiming him as its mascot hits a crack house that deals mostly to kids but that's run by a boy whom he considers a friend; caught in the middle, he does a delicate balancing act, and in the process is adopted by one-eyed urchin Ethan, who makes a living servicing travelers in the bus depot. When Corbitt runs away from home, he comes to Oakland, where he connects with Tam through Ethan, but in spite of their friendship, he is pulled into the heart of 'hood darkness and is forced to lead a deadly assault on a new crack house. With far more attitude than velocity, the harsh realities of rural and urban black America hit home relentlessly, but leave few lasting impressions: a painfully long and, for Mowry readers, a now-familiar saga of lost childhood innocence.