Mike was seven when his father was killed in mysterious circumstances in Afghanistan. Eight years later, the family still hasn't recovered: Mike's mom is overworked and overprotective; his younger sister Mary feels no connection to the father she barely remembers; and in his quest to be "the man of the family," Mike knows he's missing out on everyday high school life. Then, out of the blue, Mike receives a letter from his father -- the first of a series Dad wrote in Afghanistan, just in case he didn't come home, meant to share some wisdom with his son on the eve of Mike's 16th birthday. As the letters come in, Mike revels in spending time with his dad again, and takes his encouragement to try new things -- to go out for the football team, and ask out the beautiful Isma. But who's been keeping the letters all these years? And how did Dad actually die? As the answers to these mysteries are revealed, Mike and his family find a way to heal and move forward at last.
Former Iowa National Guardsman Reedy (Divided We Fall) returns to Riverside, Iowa (last seen in his Stealing Air) to tell the coming-of-age story of 15-year-old Mike Wilson, who's still dealing with his father's death in Afghanistan, seven years earlier. Raised by his overprotective mother, Mike yearns to play football, but is pushed to focus on school and his part-time job. When letters written by his father before his death start showing up in the mail from an unknown sender, they give Mike a connection he thought lost forever. With each letter giving him a mission go to a party, ask a girl out, forgive someone he finds the courage and motivation to live fully. But in the process, he must confront bullies, get around his mother's disapproval, and find out the truth behind his father's death. Powerful and emotionally raw, with sympathetic characters and a thought-provoking premise, this tale reflects Reedy's strengths: evoking the small-town American spirit, capturing the feel of the military, and getting into the heart of his teenage protagonist. Ages 12 up.