Sharon Darrow, . . Candlewick, $16.99 (182pp) ISBN 978-0-7636-1437-9

In her first novel for young adults, both violent and gripping, Darrow (Through the Tempests Dark and Wild ) vividly paints Pertrisha "Pert" Lexie and her impoverished family, living in Lexieville, Ark. A social worker finds jobs for Pert, her brother, Jobe, and her father, painting for their rural county, and Pert is "looking like to be the first Lexie to make it to graduation." But Truly, her mother, refuses to accept that Pert's no-good uncle (Truly's brother) Orris has "been after" her. When Pert tells Orris's girlfriend, Orris beats Pert nearly to death, setting off a series of other tragedies, including Truly's suicide. Both the beating and suicide are quite graphic ("I screamed, but no sound, no air, only dust, filled my throat" says Pert, after Orris crams her mouth with dirt and debris). The author's realistic details about living in poverty will make an impact on readers (in one scene, Pert washes her hair and her clothes with a shampoo sample she got in the mail), as will scenes of Jobe handling rattlesnakes at the new First Send-the-Light Gospel church (he believes he beat Orris to death and the snakes are his "only redemption"). Now Pert's only hope of saving her brother is to find the man who tried to kill her. Pert, Jobe and Truly all narrate; Truly's viewpoint adds a dark, mystical tone that permeates this well-drawn novel. Ages 14-up. (Oct.)