Diane Les Becquets, . . Winslow, $16.95 (250pp) ISBN 978-1-58837-004-4

This first novel, set in 1966 Spring Gap, Ala., pegs Les Becquets as a writer to watch. She orients readers in the deep South, where whites gamble on the outcome of bare-hand boxing between young black boys; the sheriff's buddy runs the town's gambling and drinking establishment; and the blossoming friendship between white narrator Francie and Ruthie, a black girl, labels Francie an outcast. Francie's mother relates the brief opening chapter, which hints at foul play: while the woman searches for Francie's alcoholic father one night, she hears the voice of a distressed child, shouts that the child should run, then loses consciousness (and her life). The rest of the novel is told from 14-year-0ld Francie's perspective, an intelligent, fair-minded viewpoint that will keep readers hooked. Francie first meets Ruthie after the heroine is bitten by a poisonous snake on the banks of Mourning Creek, and Ruthie alerts her mother, who provides a healing remedy. Gradually, Francie learns just how great an impact her mother had on the small community. If the various ties all leading back to the woman seem too carefully orchestrated, and some of the events and subplots melodramatic (an old flame of Francie's mother watches out for Francie; one villain is the source of all the town's evils), the lyricism of the narrative and the well-developed relationship between Francie and Ruthie carries the novel. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)