A troubled boy triumphs over death by talking to a puddle--in this pillow-soft, feel-good first novel from Ohio writer Lamb. Twelve-year-old Nick hears voices when he ventures beyond the tragedy-stricken boundaries of his family's Ohio farm. A few months before, a road accident killed his father and left his mother bedridden, leaving Nick in the care of a lonely alcoholic aunt. Seeking solace along familiar paths and streams, the boy also communicates with Indian dead from a nearby burial mound, listening as they bemoan bitterly their murder long ago by a marauding tribe. One day after a rainstorm, Nick is stopped by a new voice--this one coming from a fresh puddle and begging him for help. Thus begins a crucial phase in Nick's recovery as he and the puddle swap thoughts and discuss the hard truths of love and loss. When the stray barn- cat he's befriended (and named The Ghost) is diagnosed with feline AIDS and grows steadily sicker, Nick makes a painful choice to end its misery--an act that at last allows him to come to terms with reality. Silencing the Indian voices, permitting dead neighbors and a girlfriend killed by a train to exit his world--where they had continued to carry on as if alive--he also sets free his mother, who actually died a few days after the accident. The puddle-voice is liberated as well--by the heat of summer and a thirsty dog; the dog then becomes Nick's companion, making him a normal country boy once more. Cutesy philosophizing is bad enough, but when added to watered-down, washed-out characters and a Disney-happy plot, an already thin debut story gets all the less appealing.