A second tragedy-laden southern coming-of-age tale from Reynolds (Bitterroot Landing, 1995)--this one, set in a strict and punitive religious community, with a good, gothic allure despite its lamentably plodding prose. Ninah Huff is 14 when she really begins to chafe at the confines of her small world. Her grandpa Herman, founder of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind, keeps harsh control over their small South Carolina community, which is populated mostly by Ninah's extended family. Those who stray from the righteous path know to expect treatment that can range from whippings with a leather strap to sleeping overnight in a newly dug grave. And Grandpa Herman is always ready with Scripture to justify any of these punishments. Ninah, meanwhile, finds herself dreaming more and more about forbidden things, especially her strong physical attraction to James, one of the few boys around who's not her blood kin. When she winds up pregnant, it sparks tragedy within her family and shock waves throughout the community. But Ninah insists that she's not guilty of the sin of fornication, that what she and James did together was a form of pure prayer. And, sure enough, when baby Canaan is born, he appears to bear a sign from God--his hands are joined at the palms like someone perpetually praying. Grandpa Herman proclaims him the New Messiah, and he's taken away from Ninah to be raised by others. This time out, Reynolds burdens her story with some unworkable metaphors--a rug that grins?--and much awkward dialogue, but, in all, she creates a strongly compelling tension between family feeling and religious fervor. The fate of Ninah and her son is uncertain until the small epiphany (or, really, anti-epiphany) at book's end--a moment that seems just right. Fire and brimstone that goes tepid at times but is really chilling overall.