©2000 Published by Bantam Dell
From the cover: “Until that summer of 1952, Luke Chandler had never kept a secret or told a single lie. But in the long, hot summer of his seventh year, two groups of migrant workers – and two very dangerous men – came through the Arkansas Delta to work the Chandler cotton farm. And suddenly mysteries are flooding Luke’s world. A brutal murder leaves the town seething in gossip and suspicion. A beautiful young woman ignites forbidden passions. A fatherless baby is born…and someone has begun furtively painting the bare clapboards of the Chandler farmhouse, slowly, painstakingly bathing the run-down structure in gleaming white. And as young Luke watches the world around him, he unravels secrets that could shatter lives – and change his family and his town forever.”
John Grisham does a wonderful job telling the story of a poor cotton farmer’s family from the viewpoint of a 7-year-old boy. The Chandler’s are poor, barely making a living from their rented 40 acres of cotton. The family is made up of Pappy and Gran, their son, his wife, and their grandson Luke. They hire migrant workers each year to help pick the cotton by hand. In 1952 those workers include 10 Mexican men and the Spruill family from the Ozarks who pick cotton to supplement their income - Mr. and Mrs. Spruill, oldest son Hank who's a mean S.O. B., daugher Tally who's cute and 17, teen sons Bo and Dale, and the youngest, Trot, who's 'not right'. The Mexican men are housed in the barn loft and the Spruill family of 7 sleep in tents in the Chandler’s yard. Life is hard for all of them as they work sun-up to sundown 6 ½ days a week. Even Luke is expected to do his share in the field, as well as helping his mother in her large garden and doing chores. Their main recreations are going to town on Saturday afternoons to shop and catch up on local gossip and to church on Sundays.
Luke learns a lot as he watches the actions of others on the cotton farm and in town. He sees things he shouldn’t and is told to keep quiet. He has to decide to tell about them or keep secrets for the good of his family. Any trouble could cause the migrant workers to leave, the cotton wouldn’t get picked, and the family wouldn’t have any income. People are killed, others disappear, a baby is born, and the crop is threatened by bad weather. Things aren’t easy on the farm but you’ll enjoy getting to know the Chandlers and learning about their lives.
A short while after I started reading this book, I realized I had read it before. I went ahead and read it again and I enjoyed it just as much the second time. I bought this book at a garage sale.