Little John blames himself for the accidental death of his sister and, since then, his family has hit hard times: Mom is going crazy with grief and Dad is drinking away his much-needed earnings. Little John sees a chance for redemption when he and his father take on some tree cutting work for the richest man in the area, and he befriends a little girl, Gayle, whose singing heals both physical and psychic wounds. But the rich man, the Emperor, wants to capture Gayle’s voice and bribes Little John to betray her.
Seen through Little John’s eyes, Lofton sparingly and evocatively captures the intense heat of the Texas summer and the desperate impoverishment of the town, and contrasts this with the ethereal beauty of Gayle’s singing, as Little John struggles to keep his promises without letting his family go under.
This is one of those sort of children’s books, like Clare Vanderpool’s, that I think adults enjoy more than most kids because of its pace and theme, though it really doesn’t do a lot for me. But I can appreciate that though it’s likely to appeal to a relatively small number of readers those that do find it will be as enchanted by Gayle as Little John.