The death of a brother transforms a preteen's discontent into guilt in this weakly constructed drama, set on the Nebraska prairie in the 1850s, just before the Homestead Act. A year and a half after moving from Missouri, Abbie and her family live in a one-room sod house, while her father works and stays in town, 15 miles away, trying to raise money so they can buy the land they've claimed. After a rare, leisurely visit to town, Abbie arrives home to find both of her brothers stricken with cholera; she also comes down with the disease, and her recovery is slowed by the twin convictions that she's responsible for the baby brother's death, and that her parents hate her. Hermes (When Snow Lay Soft on the Mountain, 1996, etc.) expresses decidedly antique attitudes toward native people, described as ""Indians"" who are wild and mischievous; one of them, in response to Abbie's father's ""How, do,"" actually says ""How."" She also lets most of the air out of her story by building toward a climax, involving both an impending auction and a public recitation, then leaving the actual scene out. Next to Jennifer Armstrong's Black-Eyed Susan (1995) or Para Conrad's wrenching Prairie Song (1987), the characters and setting here are only dimly realized, and readers will be let down by the anticlimactic ending.