This simple tale of cotton harvesting in 1952 Arkansas offers the curious a chance to see what Grisham would be like without all the lawyers.
Now that the weather's been suspiciously clement all season, Luke Chandler's father is looking for temporary labor to pick the 80 acres of cotton his family rents. He finds a hill family, the Spruills, who promptly pitch camp on Luke's baseball diamond in the front yard, and ten migrant Mexicans who all set to picking alongside the Chandlers. As the days grow shorter, Luke's dreams of moving to St. Louis and playing for the Cardinals are nurtured by Stan Musial's run at the batting title, and he prays his big brother Ricky will come home safely and soon from Korea and worries that he'll get beaten for all manner of infractions. Meanwhile, hulking Hank Spruill wades into a street brawl and leaves a man dead; his sister Tally takes up with one of the Mexican pickers; their younger brother Trot, whose withered arm keeps him from picking much cotton, gets the fantastical idea of painting the Chandlers' weathered house. As the improbable repository of the family secrets, Luke watches the episodic season unfold, but knows he can't say anything against the Spruills—not even the dangerous Hank—because trouble for any of them would chase the rest of them away, and his father needs every picker he can get. So the families drift along in a quietly uneasy alliance till the inevitable climax—still another moment Luke will have to keep secret.
What's Grisham like sans lawyers? Leisurely and sentimental, a little like The Cider House Rules, The Human Comedy, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and presumably a lot more like his own Arkansas childhood—yet not all that much different in this coming-of-age story from A Time to Kill, The Firm, and all those other tales of grown-up naïfs in three-piece suits.