In her first novel, Bradby (Momma, Where Are You From?
) combines a knowledge of the dynamics of preteen girls' friendships and a solid historical setting for a moving and memorable read. Set in 1963, the story takes place in a middle-class African-American neighborhood in a town not far from Washington, D.C. Pearl, the 11-year-old narrator, a middle child, wishes for a friend, and even while the popular, trend-setting Lenore seeks her company occasionally, Pearl is wise enough to know that "you can find girls to be your friends and then find out that they are not." Sure enough, Lenore has Pearl and the other girls in her sway stealing money from the church collection, doing her homework for her, etc. Meanwhile, Pearl also likes the new girl, Artemesia, whom Lenore and her minions despise for her shabby clothes and obvious poverty. A power play looms inevitably—and to Bradby's credit, Pearl behaves realistically, not nobly, only to be met with remorse that can't be neatly squared away. (Strangely, Lenore seems to drop out of the novel shortly after this point.) The characters here seem to live and breathe—from Pearl's older sister, who practices the newest dances with the members of her all-girl club, to the older brother whose head momentarily swells when he lends his sneakers to a prominent civil rights leader during the March on Washington, to their hardworking parents, and to Pearl herself, a striking, non-heroic heroine. Ages 9-12. (Jan.)