Cathy Benson is just 11 years old when her parents die, and she must move from California to the tiny town of Kersey, Texas. Cathy's grandmother Emma has had little dealings with her son and his wife, who struck her as vain and materialistic. The last time she had been around Cathy, her granddaughter was just four years old and seemed spoiled rotten. Now, although Emma knows she must raise Cathy, she is a bit apprehensive by the idea. After all, Cathy is leaving a privileged life near the beach to live in a more hard-scrabble environment in the Texas Panhandle. At first, Emma's anxieties appear to be on track: little Cathy is stoic and mute. However, when Emma cannot control her grief at the loss of her son, her granddaughter instantly embraces her.
Eleven-year-old best friends John Caldwell and Trey Don Hall are not at all pleased when Trey Don's Aunt Mabel volunteers them to look after the new girl in town. Trey and John are smart, athletic boys who are leaders of the sixth grade. Emma and Mabel hope that Cathy's induction into the local school will be much smoother with John and Trey escorting her. Both boys are essentially orphans themselves, with parents absent from their lives for a number of reasons. Mabel recognizes inherent morality and goodness in John but worries about her own nephew, hoping he hasn't inherited the traits of his selfish parents.
John decides he doesn't mind helping the new girl, but Trey continues to object to "babysitting a mute"...until the day he first glimpses small, blonde Cathy. He is unable to move after seeing her, thunderstruck by an emotion he has never experienced. Now he plans to protect her forever. The three children bond, forming a warm, close friendship that sustains them for many years. Then puberty strikes. Trey announces to John that he is going to ask Cathy to go steady with him, knowing at the same time that this romantic pairing will alter everything in their lives. Trey is stunned by Cathy's response: "I already am going steady with you." He feels incredibly fortunate, even after suffering a health crisis that will have life-long repercussions, changing their future paths in shocking and unpredictable ways. Meanwhile, though, the boys play football and hope for scholarships while Cathy attains grades that she anticipates will eventually get her into medical school. Trey and Cathy date, maintaining a friendship with John. The three plan to attend the University of Miami together.
Trey, however, is concerned that this cozy future they envision will not come to pass if the school team doesn't win a championship. If they lose a key game, he figures, he may not get the scholarship he wants. Trey is so desperate to win that he dreams up a scheme to sway good fortune their way. In spite of his misgivings, John finally agrees to help his friend, but things go nightmarishly wrong.
Leila Meacham introduces a mystery at the beginning of this expansive novel spanning several generations with the return to his hometown of 40-year-old Trey Don Hall. We know that Trey and John have not spoken for decades, leaving us to wonder what on earth could have happened to their once-tight friendship --- and turning pages late into the night in order to find out. While some may find this hefty saga to be a bit too full of drama and shocking plot twists, others are bound to devour its nearly 500 pages of star-crossed love, friendship and football with intense pleasure.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon