Review by Booklist Review
For preternaturally prescient Lucas Chandler, the year 1952 is full of secrets--sweet, tragic, and mysterious. At 7, he still sleeps under the bed when he's scared and disappears behind his mother's skirts from time to time. But he's old enough to understand that prejudice, class rivalry (townies paint their houses; farmers don't), and violence are part of the fabric of his outwardly quiet farming community, and that he shouldn't be watching an unmarried teen give birth or pretty 17-year-old Tally bathing in the creek (even if she says it's okay). He also realizes that by confessing he's witnessed two vicious killings, he'll be threatening his family's livelihood and putting his loved ones in danger. Abandoning the political and courtroom venues of his popular thrillers, Grisham calls up the cotton fields of his native Arkansas for this somewhat unfocused coming-of-age story, which lacks the punch and cleverness of his other fiction. The characters rarely get beyond stereotypes (especially the Mexican migrant workers), even with respect to the 1950s bucolic setting, and narrator Lucas sounds far more like a 12-year-old than a second-grader. The measured, descriptive prose is readable, to be sure, and there are some truly tender moments, but this is surface without substance, simply an adequate effort in a genre that has exploded with quality over the last several years. --Stephanie Zvirin
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Who needs lawyers? Not Grisham, in his captivating new novel, now between hardcovers after serialization in the Oxford American. Here there are hardscrabble farmers instead, and dirt-poor itinerant workers and a seven-year-old boy who grows up fast in a story as rich in conflict and incident as any previous Grisham and as nuanced as his very best. It's September 1952 in rural Arkansas when young narrator Luke Chandler notes that "the hill people and the Mexicans arrived on the same day." These folk are in Black Oak for the annual harvest of the cotton grown on the 80 acres that the Chandlers rent. The three generations of the Chandler family treat their workers more kindly than most farmers do, including engaging in the local obsessionDplaying baseballDwith them, but serious trouble arises among the harvesters nonetheless. Most of it centers around Hank Spruill, a giant hillbilly with an equally massive temper, who one night in town beats a man dead and who throughout the book rubs up against a knife-wielding Mexican who is dating Hank's 17-year-old sister on the sly, leading to another murder. In fact, there's a mess of trouble in Luke's life, from worries about his uncle Ricky fighting in Korea to concerns about the nearby Latcher family and its illegitimate newborn baby, who may be Ricky's son. And then there are the constant fears about the weather, as much a character in this novel as any human, from the tornado that storms past the farm to the downpours that eventually flood the fields, ruining the crop and washing Luke and his family into a new life. Grisham admirers know that this author's writing has evolved with nearly every book, from the simple mechanics that made The Firm click to the manifestations of grace that made The Testament such a fine novel of spiritual reckoning. The mechanics are still visible hereDas a nosy, spying boy, Luke serves as a nearly omnipresent eye to spur the novel along its courseDbut so, too, are characters that no reader will forget, prose as clean and strong as any Grisham has yet laid down and a drop-dead evocation of a time and place that mark this novel as a classic slice of Americana. Agent, David Gernert. (One-day laydown, Feb. 6) FORECAST: Will Grisham's fans miss the lawyers? Not hardly. This is a Grisham novel all the way, despite its surface departures from the legal thrillers, and it will be received as such, justifying the 2.8-million first printing. (For more on Grisham, see Book News, p. 178) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Lucas Chandler is a seven-year-old boy who lives in an unpainted house on an Arkansas farm with his parents and grandparents in the early 1950s. He loves Coca-Cola, baseball, and the St. Louis Cardinals, and he plans on using the money he earns picking cotton to buy a shiny baseball jacket from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Soon after the hired crews of Mexicans and "hill people" arrive to help pick the Chandler family's 80 acres of cotton, Lucas sees things that cause him to lose his innocence much earlier than he should and long for the days when he did not have to keep secrets or worry about his and his family's safety. Legal thriller master Grisham changes direction with this lawyer-free coming-of-age novel, and the results are stunning. Featuring vivid descriptions, bits of humor, and a thrilling pace, this is a suspenseful and satisfying read. [This novel was first serialized in The Oxford American. Ed.] Samantha J. Gust, Niagara Univ. Lib., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
This simple tale of cotton harvesting in 1952 Arkansas offers the curious a chance to see what Grisham would be like without all the lawyers. Now that the weather's been suspiciously clement all season, Luke Chandler's father is looking for temporary labor to pick the 80 acres of cotton his family rents. He finds a hill family, the Spruills, who promptly pitch camp on Luke's baseball diamond in the front yard, and ten migrant Mexicans who all set to picking alongside the Chandlers. As the days grow shorter, Luke's dreams of moving to St. Louis and playing for the Cardinals are nurtured by Stan Musial's run at the batting title, and he prays his big brother Ricky will come home safely and soon from Korea and worries that he'll get beaten for all manner of infractions. Meanwhile, hulking Hank Spruill wades into a street brawl and leaves a man dead; his sister Tally takes up with one of the Mexican pickers; their younger brother Trot, whose withered arm keeps him from picking much cotton, gets the fantastical idea of painting the Chandlers' weathered house. As the improbable repository of the family secrets, Luke watches the episodic season unfold, but knows he can't say anything against the Spruillsnot even the dangerous Hankbecause trouble for any of them would chase the rest of them away, and his father needs every picker he can get. So the families drift along in a quietly uneasy alliance till the inevitable climaxstill another moment Luke will have to keep secret. What's Grisham like sans lawyers? Leisurely and sentimental, a little like The Cider House Rules , The Human Comedy , The Adventures of Tom Sawyer , and presumably a lot more like his own Arkansas childhoodyet not all that much different in this coming-of-age story from A Time to Kill , The Firm , and all those other tales of grown-up naïfs in three-piece suits.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.