Why should I, the ugly one live, and all the pretty ones die?"" In this gloomy mystery Dee Bristol, black and shy, moves in with Aunt Lulu and cold Uncle George when her family--except junkie brother Jamie--dies in a ghetto fire. Mt. Hope, N. C. is different from Detroit--Dee refers to the ""strangeness""--and the eleven-year-old acts out fantasies in the woods, remembering Jamie's encouraging words, airing feelings she can't express to Lulu or George or the prejudiced teacher at her newly integrated school. Dee wonders about George's mournful allusions to ""Wendy,"" the resentments of the neighboring Franklins, and the armed white man she spots near the off-limits church, but Aunt Lulu puts her off; then playing alone, she meets Wendy herself, an abused, motherless child who lived with Lulu and George until her spiteful white father snatched her away. They become fast friends and Dee, in a desperate move, discovers the illegal still hidden in that church--which lands Wendy's father in jail and assures everyone (including Jamie) a happily-ever-after with Lulu and George. With Dee almost murdered by the trashy white father, it's suspenseful but grim.