Gr 5-7--In southern Missouri in 1937, Rass Whitley, 12, is frustrated by his stern father's injustices. For solace he visits with kindly Mr. McMulty, a black sharecropper who helps the boy appreciate the strong bonds within his imperfect family. When a drainage dike gives way and sweeps a huge wall of water upon the Whitleys, Rass ignores his father's order to save the mules and saves his father instead. With the house destroyed and, far worse, no way to plow without mules, the family is reduced to sharecropper status and little hope. Their landlord orders Mr. McMulty to vacate his house for the Whitleys and to leave the land he had hoped to buy. When the landlord's prized calf is destroyed, everyone knows McMulty is guilty, but only Rass knows where the wounded man is hiding, and he must decide what to do. Rabe's take on hardscrabble, old-time farming conjures up the era, but the author's efforts to capture speech patterns may prove difficult for less experienced readers. Rass's character seems to belabor the injustice of the times and the plot meanders to fit everything in--Klan cross burning, night riders, tar and feathering. Still, there is a neat depiction of Rass's growing understanding that relationships are complex and puzzling, and the ending is upbeat. Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Cat Running (Delacorte, 1994) is a stronger story about a farm family during the Depression.--Cindy Darling Codell, Clark Middle School, Winchester, KY
When a flood destroys Rass's house and kills his father's mules, their landlord, Nert, forces them into sharecropping; they move into Mr. McMulty's cabin, turning the old black man out. Mr. McMulty, whom Rass considers his best friend, takes revenge on Nert by killing his prize calf. Injured and hiding, with both the law and the Ku Klux Klan searching for him, Mr. McMulty has only Rass to protect him. Rabe (Rass, 1973, etc.) offers vital moments in the story and exhibits an aptitude for blending dialect, dialogue, and the minutiae of daily life into realistic scenes of the period. The story is inflated, though, by extraneous characters and dangling subplots; these more than once pull the main plot dishearteningly off course, until only fans of the first book will feel the need to finish this one.