By the author of The Chocolate War (1974) and other YA fiction renowned for its fiercely astringent posing of tough questions, a gentler story for younger children, depicting a lonely 11-year-old's qualms and wonderment concerning her neighbors' Catholicism. Darcy's father is a rolling stone; shy Darcy has never had a chance to make friends. "Delta," Massachusetts, where the army has now assigned her father, is even more isolating: the neighbors are mostly "Canucks," Catholics who speak only French. Then Irish Kathleen Mary makes Darcy her best friend, insists that she demonstrate her approaching adulthood by giving away the doll that has long been Darcy's only confidante, earnestly instructs Unitarian Darcy on Catholic observances and the perils of sin, privately sprinkles her with holy water and declares her a Catholic--and then disappears forever with her deeply troubled family, leaving Darcy to puzzle about her own status and beliefs during a time when her father is declared missing in action in WW II and her mother, always frail and withdrawn, is exhausted by factory work. A saintly old nun helps Darcy to understand that, eclipsing denomination, "Loving God is the first thing." Superbly crafted, the story concludes with some trademark Cormier ambivalences: Though Darcy is the only one to hear a glorious peal of bells on Christmas Eve, and though Dad's safety is reported, by miraculous-seeming coincidence, just as Sister Angela prays for him, Kathleen's story has a tragic end that Darcy is unable to share with her reserved parents. How Darcy will deal with these conflicting experiences is left open--a disturbing but realistic conclusion to a book remarkable for its evocation of the milieu and anxieties of the era. Ray's soft-pencil illustrations beautifully reflect the story's pensive mood. A provocative look at the meaning of belief.