Missouri native Allen Eskens' "stunning small-town mystery" (New York Times Book Review) is a necessary exploration of family, loyalty, and racial tension in America and "a coming-of-age book to rival some of the best, such as Ordinary Grace" (Library Journal, starred review).
In a small Southern town where loyalty to family and to "your people" carries the weight of a sacred oath, defying those unspoken rules can be a deadly proposition. After fifteen years of growing up in the Ozark hills with his widowed mother, high-school freshman Boady Sanden is beyond ready to move on. He dreams of glass towers and cityscapes, driven by his desire to be anywhere other than Jessup, Missouri. The new kid at St. Ignatius High School, if he isn't being pushed around, he is being completely ignored. Even his beloved woods, his playground as a child and his sanctuary as he grew older, seem to be closing in on him, suffocating him.
Then Thomas Elgin moves in across the road, and Boady's life begins to twist and turn. Coming to know the Elgins -- a black family settling into a community where notions of "us" and "them" carry the weight of history -- forces Boady to rethink his understanding of the world he's taken for granted. Secrets hidden in plain sight begin to unfold: the mother who wraps herself in the loss of her husband, the neighbor who carries the wounds of a mysterious past that he holds close, the quiet boss who is fighting his own hidden battle.
But the biggest secret of all is the disappearance of Lida Poe, the African-American woman who keeps the books at the local plastics factory. Word has it that Ms. Poe left town, along with a hundred thousand dollars of company money. Although Boady has never met the missing woman, he discovers that the threads of her life are woven into the deepest fabric of his world.
As the mystery of her fate plays out, Boady begins to see the stark lines of race and class that both bind and divide this small town -- and he will be forced to choose sides.
Best Book of the Year: Florida Sun-Sentinel and Library Journal
Finalist for the Minnesota Book Award
Set in Jessup, Mo., in 1976, this tepid coming-of-age story, with a mystery element, from Edgar-finalist Eskens (The Life We Bury) centers on the relationship between Boady Sanden, an unhappy 15-year-old white boy, and Thomas Elgin, a black boy his own age who moves in with his family next door. Boady and Thomas hit it off after some initial awkwardness when Boady thoughtlessly uses the N-word. The boys' unremarkable escapades include encounters with the opposite sex. Meanwhile, Lida Poe, an African-American woman who worked in the purchasing department of Jessup's largest employer, a plastics producer, goes missing. Rumors circulate that Lida was involved in some financial chicanery and Thomas's father was brought in from Minnesota to try to straighten the business out. Eventually, Boady and Thomas run across a corpse and start playing detectives themselves. The action builds to a climax heavy on clich s. This is no To Kill a Mockingbird. Hopefully, Eskens will return to form next time.
Best book so far 2022
A surprise for me, not knowing the author. Tough to put down, his voice was so real and engaging. He transported me smack dab into the middle of the life of a boy coming of age in a town wrought with prejudice. The characters became like familiar friends and hated enemies. Although movies can ruin a great novel, this would make a tremendous film.
This is a wonderful book about friendship and complications of life.
A great read with suspense, sadness, and a smattering of humor. I am a first time reader of Mr. Eskens but will now become an avid follower of his other works.