A first novel that affectingly details the bittersweet last summer of childhood, often treating the grimmer events--polio, race, and death--with a cursory, even jaunty vigor. ""Tab"" (Tabitha) Rutland, the narrator, lives in a small Alabama town. It's 1954, school is over, and summer stretches ahead. Though this is Tab's favorite season, it's also polio time, and, as a precaution, swimming pools and the movie house are closed. Tab, a sixth grader, is enjoying an era when boys are still only fellow football players, not potential dates, and when fun is imagining you're Roy Rogers, building forts. With her new friend Maudie, the daughter of a neighbor's African-American maid, Tab builds ""Fort Polio"" in a kudzu vine thicket where the two observe the transactions of the local moonshine maker; Tab takes a dangerous fishing trip to make money so Maudie can buy school supplies; and she gets caught up in the less benevolent side of town life. Meanwhile, Tab's ""intellectual"" mother doesn't get on with her mother-in-law or the locals. In fact, Tab looks on as Mrs. Poovey, head of the prestigious Ladies Help League that collects money for polio victims, humiliatingly rejects her mother's application for membership. A neighbor dies suddenly and John, her clever young son, a friend of Tab's, must move in with relatives who don't appreciate his brilliance. And it is Tab who discovers, when Mrs. Poovey suddenly leaves town, the scandalous reason for her departure. But only when school starts, and Maudie comes down with polio and is sent away, never to be seen again, does Tab realize her childhood has ended. Despite some unevenness, a coming-of-age story that deftly evokes a time of blissfully ordinary comforts.