In the post WWII South, fifteen-year-old Lucas lives with his Granny, Paw Paw, and Uncle Robert on their cotton farm. Thirteen years older than Lucas, the childlike Robert has Down Syndrome. Lucas is his protector, tasked with watching him as the two help out around the farm. Lucas would love to go off by himself to fish, but he accepts his responsibility. He is patient, kind, and protective to his uncle, who cannot do simple things and whose speech is hard to understand.
Alvin Earl, Robert’s much older half-brother, bullies and pokes fun at him whenever he shows up at the farm. He refuses to use Robert’s name, instead calling him “that boy.” This is Georgia in 1948, and there is no tolerance of anyone different, especially from the cruel Alvin Earl. He relentlessly demeans and spews hatred toward Robert and the Black help. Corinthia, Little George, and Cotton have worked for them so long, they are part of the family. When Lucas’s Paw Paw dies, Alvin Earl is furious when Little George inherits part of the land Alvin Earl expected to have, and Lucas is given money for college. Granny, Lucas, and Robert are allowed to live in the house as long as they like. Alvin Earl moves into the house, and their lives become filled with anxiety and distress. He threatens to commit Robert to the state hospital and remove Lucas from school to work the cotton fields.
Anderson perfectly captures family life in a small Southern community and the bigotry of that time. Lucas is a character to love for his quiet compassion and kindness in contrast to Alvin Earl’s despicable life as a bully and petty criminal. This is a coming-of-age story with a thread of malevolence running through. It will warm your heart one minute and disturb you the next.