In his first book to be published in English (it appeared in Moscow in 1983), a prize-winning, widely-translated Soviet author portrays a tragic universal phenomenon: the thoughtlessly vicious interaction of kids as they scapegoat one of their number. New in town, living with a reclusive grandfather whose only concern is the unusual collection of fine old family portraits he keeps in his rundown ancestral home, Lena seems a bit offbeat to her 12-year-old classmates; still, she makes a good friend of handsome leader Dimka Somov and is included in his group--until Lena overhears Dimka tattling after the class collaborates on a prank. Quixotically, Lena confesses that she, not Dimka, is the ""traitor""; and while the others' ostracism escalates, Dimka repeatedly betrays Lena by lacking the courage to own up. Though Lena's gang is difficult to sort out (an explanation of the complex Russian system of surnames, given names, nicknames, and patronymics plus an Agatha Christie-like key would be invaluable here), they are pungently characterized, while sensitive, feisty Lena is uniquely memorable. A gripping evocation of the genesis of injustice, with a fascinating historical-political subtext and a cautiously hopeful conclusion: though Lena and her grandfather are driven to leaving his beloved pictures and returning to her parents in Moscow, the other children are left chastened, wiser, and truly sorry.