September 19, 2018

Review by Mrs. Collins

5 out of 5 stars

Wow. Just. … Wow.

It has been a while since I’ve read a book that takes you so thoroughly and immersively into the head and heart of such a broken character. I couldn’t stop reading, despite the fact that I am not usually able to relate to someone as religious as this main character, and despite the fact that baseball plays a huge role in this book and I’m not really a sportsball person.

Braden Raynor’s father, the popular christian radio host Mart Raynor, has been accused of killing a police officer from the neighboring town of La Abra, and Braden, who was there, is to be the star witness in the defense of his father. Trey, Braden’s older brother who disappeared from their lives nine years previously after some mysterious, unnamed incident with their father caused him to swear that he would never see or talk to their father again, is back from his successful life as a restauranteur in New York to be Braden’s guardian while their father is in jail.

The story of what really happened the night the police officer died, and what really happened between Trey and their father, unravels slowly over the course of the book, as we find out more and more about the psychologically damaging relationship between Braden and his dad. All the while, Braden, who is the star pitcher for his high school baseball team, and has already been scouted by the minor leagues, becomes increasingly more and more anxious as both the trial, and his testimony, and a game against the La Abra team approach. Because not only will he be playing against the La Abra team, who are from the town where everyone is pulling for his father to receive the death penalty, but one of the players on the team is the nephew of the police officer who was killed, and the only other person who was there when it happened. And the game is right after Braden will take the stand and testify in his father’s trial.

The hardest part about this book, the part that tore me apart, is that Braden is terrified of his father, and there are even hints at physical abuse, but he also loves him fiercely, and wants his approval so much that he is willing to do almost anything to get it. There were times that I just wanted to rail against Braden for not seeing his father for who he really is, while at the same time I recognized the very authentic portrayal of the way that abusive relationships blur lines between love and hate, fear and devotion. This novel was intense, and amazing. A truly outstanding debut for Kelly Loy Gilbert. Kudos!

The intensely interior nature of the narrative, and the slow pacing will make this a difficult read for more reluctant readers, and the abuse and violence may be too much for 6th graders, but I definitely recommend this to the more mature students who are ready for an emotionally consuming story.


Projekt 1065, by Alan Gratz 

Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli 

Carve the Mark, by Veronica Roth 

The Giver, by Lois Lowry