When newspaper writer Chase Walker is let out of jail, his foster parent, Uncle Willee McFarland, is his ride home --- the only real home that Chase can (or wants to) remember from his early childhood years. After being shuffled around between three foster and two boys' homes, Chase is thankful for "Unc" and Lorna McFarland's generous hearts.
Though just released from a short stint in the Glynn County Jail for trespassing, Chase can't help but feel that he's still incarcerated. No one can release him from the shadows of his own past. Who is he really? What's his real name? Will his dad, even some 20-plus years later, ever come for him? Chase continues to replay a single nagging memory of a train, sparks and skidding steel rails near his head. It includes his father (his real one) calling Chase by name, but Chase is unable to see him nor hear his voice.
While Chase reminisces, Unc tells Chase that his cousin Tommye --- best friend, young love and, most recently, an adult film actress --- is home from California and is dying. Tommye and Chase reunite on civil terms, dancing around the past without actually addressing its pain.
Before Chase can scarcely take another breath, he receives an assignment from his editor at the Brunswick Daily. Chase is told to investigate a story involving a severely abused boy who was found near a car/train wreck and whose "mother?" was on a suicide trek. He meets the young boy, who is mute but draws like a master artist, communicating only through sketches and staccato-like bursts of written words. With oozing sores and assorted branded markings of physical abuse, Chase soon finds his heart breaking and bonding with "Snoot," whose name is quickly changed to "Sketch" and then upgraded to "Buddy."
Working within the system, Chase befriends the boy and Unc and Lorna decide to take him in as foster parents. So begins Chase's internal journey of angst and questioning about his own "lost" family. He works hard to learn the truth about Buddy's past while working just as diligently to make sense of his own. As Chase and other lively and equally likable characters enter into the game of find and seek, each one discovers that old family histories don't easily die and eventually must be faced head on. Chase weaves current struggles and questions with the past and finds himself aching to find closure.
Eventually, through death, acceptance and forgiveness, Chase realizes that all he ever really needed is what he already has. And little Buddy also begins to heal with the everyday kind of love offered by those who have suffered most.
In his fifth novel, Charles Martin again melds a variety of external sensory descriptions into the soul of men and women. Somehow, readers see what his characters see, feel what they feel, and taste, touch and smell with the same intensity. Martin's fans will be delighted and moved by his newest work, which interlaces those eternal qualities so necessary to the human existence: faith, hope and love.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on November 13, 2011