New for 2020 — an upbeat family saga and a celebration of language, friendship, love, and hope.

The story that couldn’t be told until 50 years had passed: Wilton Straed, self-conscious and regrettably cautious, has spent most of his eighteen years raising his sister, “Rockie,” thanks to parents who couldn’t or wouldn’t.  In 1967 they are uprooted from their urban Virginia comforts and dropped into Spearfish, South Dakota, he for one more year of high school, she for two.  Lionel Comosh, a local off-reservation Lakota and high school senior, is a part-time mechanic in the family business who aspires to more of the same.  His younger sister, Cyleine, secretly daring, agonizingly sentimental, and a connoisseur of words and numbers, soon befriends the new girl.

It’s not long before Lionel, outwardly forbidding but privately unsettled in his indigenous heritage, falls hard for the obliviously alluring — and willing — Rockie, whose heedlessly unfiltered utterances can melt barriers and hearts.

Over the next year the four lay the cornerstones for what could be lasting friendships.  Promptly after high school, though, Wilton slips away from Spearfish, shunning his father’s oppressive rule but leaving behind a bewildered Cyleine.  Lionel goes his own way, too, but will he let love’s soft net draw him back to Rockie?  The more the gentle strands close around Wilton and Cyleine in their separation, the more their vacillation imperils any lasting tie.

Among the four friends, one organizes stray thoughts, the family’s horses, and the people who matter most.  One is deaf but not as helpless as it first appears.  One transforms the family business.  And one is branded a deserter in Vietnam.

Mister Turnbull, or “Turn-bullet,” the girls’ junior-year English teacher and a World War II hero, remains an influential ally beyond high school.  As the adversities of adulthood begin to assail the four friends he urges them to take command of the English language, for in language is power.  Enthusiastically they apply his advice, in word lists, ciphers, and verse, and in one’s poignant struggle to hear.

  While one of the four blithely reaches out to President Nixon and, to no one’s surprise, becomes a penpal, Turn-bullet is pulling strings in Washington on behalf of the missing soldier, who has become a captive laborer in a Chinese radio factory, there charming audiences of exhibition wrestling and factory co-workers but not pleasing the Communist Party.

Which is the better cover to use when the book is published, the one in blue (or red as above) or the one here laid out on the wooden tabletop? Just asking… (The items on the tabletop are all mentioned in the story.)