Tayari Jones, . . Warner, $23.95 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-446-52830-6

Based on the Atlanta child murders of 1979–1980, this wrenching debut novel is told from the perspective of three Atlanta fifth-graders living in the midst of the crisis. Tasha is a sweet, conflicted middle-class girl navigating the harsh social waters of her school. Rodney, "the weirdest boy in class," is an unpopular kid who feels both pushed and ignored by his perfectionist parents. Octavia is a whip-smart, confident social outcast who carefully notes that she lives "across the street" from the projects. Jones, who was a child herself in Atlanta in the late '70s and early '80s, weaves her tale with consummate ease, shifting from third to second to first person as she switches narrators. The details of the children's everyday life—playground fights, school cafeteria breakfasts, candy store visits—are convincingly presented and provide an emotional context for the murders. When classmates begin disappearing, we know that they, along with their peers, are not one-dimensional innocents. One night when Octavia sneaks a late-night look at the local news, she sees a now-missing classmate flash on the screen. "In the picture he looked like a regular boy from our class. He was by himself so you couldn't tell that he was shorter than most of them and just nicer and smarter than all of them put together. Kodak commercials say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but the one they showed of Rodney ain't worth more than three or four. Boy. Black. Dead." This strongly grounded tale hums with the rhythms of schoolyard life and proves Jones to be a powerful storyteller. Agent, Jane Dystel. (Aug. 21)

Forecast:Jones's novel comes well recommended: an excerpt won the Hurston/ Wright Award, and the book has garnered blurbs from Leslie Marmon Silko, Jim Grimsley and Ron Carlson. Sales should be particularly strong in Atlanta and elsewhere in the South, where Jones will embark on an eight-city author tour.