Though 53-year-old Cynthia Bond has been teaching writing to homeless and at-risk youth for more than 15 years, she'd never published a book herself. Now, with her novel Ruby, Bond proves to be a powerful literary force, a writer whose unflinching yet lyrical prose is reminiscent of Toni Morrison's. Ruby Bell—"the kind of pretty it hurt to look at"—is Bond's operatic heroine, a tragic character inspired by the author's own experiences and by the East Texas murder of an aunt at the hands of the local sheriff and deputies. Whether Ephram, who's loved Ruby his entire life, can save her is at the heart of the story, which raises the question, Can hope triumph over pain? Ultimately, says Bond, she learned about overcoming adversity in the course of writing the novel. "Through love," she says, "humans can heal from anything."