This rich and complex YA story of faith and fathers is set in a conservative white Christian community in California’s Central Valley. 16 year-old Braden Raynor is a witness when his father kills a Hispanic police officer – but is it deliberate or an accident? Long submerged family memories bubble up when his estranged half brother, Trey, moves back from New York to be his guardian while their father awaits trial.
Braden is a high level baseball pitcher, and his relationship with his coach-father is somewhat akin to his relationship with God: He worships both of them, and believes these absent fathers expect complete loyalty. Twisted into this, is his certainty that playing baseball can bring salvation for him with both. His father believes in “stern discipline” and has already driven Trey away; Braden will do anything to meet his father’s (Father’s) expectations and remain the ‘good son’.
When he was a baby, Braden’s mother abandoned him to become a dancer; and when he begins a relationship with an adopted Chinese girl, his feelings of being discarded are reflected in her uncertainty about her birth parents.
The portrait of the Church community is even-handed and not disrespectful, but doesn’t offer excuses. The pastor has spoken out about homosexuality and there is more than a whiff of racism in the attitudes towards the immigrant population of the next town.
I thought the pace was measured, but some may find it slow, as the narrative moves inexorably towards the trial, while flashing back through the past. It is clear that Braden is holding information back from both the police and the reader, and the gradual reveal of the truth brings depth and resolution to the characters and the novel.