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In the brief preface to this captivating first novel by Sandra Cline, the title character tells readers she has blood on her hands—that she shot a man. In the coming-of-age story that follows, Pug tells how it all came to be. She recounts her childhood in rural Alabama during the early 1900s and her blossoming friendships with the “Seven Sisters” who meet secretly in Horseshoe Cave. They revel in the natural world, suffer from encounters with racism and tragedy, and find their spiritual selves.

The red-haired Pug (so nicknamed because of her turned-up nose or possibly because she is pugnacious—it depends on which of her parents you ask) and her friends and neighbors, some of whom have dark skin, get caught up in escalating run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan. There are unflinching depictions of brutality, and the language is earthy at times. Cline explains in an author’s note that the vile expression “nigger” is used not to offend, but to show how things were—to hold up a “ … needed mirror upon the face of truth.”

As a grown woman, Pug Sheridan comes to recognize her own capacity to hate and hurt others. But faith and forgiveness play their redemptive roles in this absorbing tale. Recommended for congregational libraries. Suitable for adults and mature teenagers.-- Monica Tenney