The summer of 1964 is in full force in Falls of Rough, Kentucky. So is 11-year-old Sassy Thompkin's desire to know all about love, especially the head-over-heels kind always mentioned in her Love Confessions magazines. Not just any boyfriend will do. After her older, prettier, flirtatious sister, Lula, laughs at her first kiss during a game of Spin the Bottle (at church camp, of all places), Sassy vows to make Boon, the teen with a Hollywood smile and bad-boy reputation, fall in love with her. In Runaround, Helen Hemphill's realistic portrayal of adolescent romance, Sassy soon learns that love is more complicated than a magazine questionnaire.

Sassy can't tell if writing love notes to Boon, buying the poor boy and his family groceries when the local storeowner refuses them credit, and other acts of kindness are winning him over. She tries asking advice from her longtime caregiver, Miss Dallas; her widowed, tobacco-farmer Daddy; and her cantankerous, more experienced sister, but they are either too evasive, too busy or too taunting to be much help. Sassy believes that the key to figuring out love may lie in knowing about the relationship between her father and the cancer-stricken mother who left home when Sassy was only a baby, but this topic always seems off-limits too. In a bittersweet ending, Sassy realizes that with her family, she already knows about real-life love.

The author of Long Gone Daddy (2006), Hemphill creates another Southern storytelling gem with attention to regional voice and vivid period details, from cherry Cokes to the sisters' ongoing battle over their musical favorites: the Beatles vs. Elvis. The author also manages to capture the immediacy of tween emotions, as Sassy vacillates between acting grown-up and feeling frustrated. Through it all, readers will want to give Sassy a big ol' hug. Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

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