Chris A. Bohjalian, , read by Alison Fraser. . Random House Audio, $39.95 (, unabridged, eight cassettes, 12 hrs., $39.95 ISBN p) ISBN 978-0-553-71500-2

Laura and Terry Sheldon are a white couple living in a small town in Vermont. They are new foster parents to Alfred, a 10-year-old African-American boy who, coming from the more urban Burlington, is now the only child of color in his new school (and in the whole town). To add to his sense of alienation, Terry and Laura are still dealing with the grief of losing their twin nine-year-old daughters to a flash flood two years ago. Terry finds solace in a one-night stand that makes him a new father; Laura turns her focus on Alfred, who was given a book on the buffalo soldiers by the family's kindly retired neighbors (the Heberts), and thus is learning about his own special heritage. This complex character-driven tale is compelling, though at times melodramatic. Fraser is an odd casting choice. Her babyish, almost cooing voice fits the giggly Phoebe (the punky young social worker) and even the quiet voice of Alfred. But the parts of the Sheldons and Heberts create a challenge for her range. Her exuberance barely pulls it off, leaving listeners feeling like they are getting a breathless account of the tale from an excited confidant. Simultaneous release with the Crown hardcover (Forecasts, Jan. 7). (Mar.)