On the surface, Brandon Willard seems like your average eight-year-old boy. He loves his mama, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and G. I. Joe. But Brandon's life is anything but typical.
Wise beyond his years, Brandon understands he's the only one in this world he can count on. It's an outlook that serves him well the day his mama leaves him behind at the Raleigh bus station and sets off to Canada with "her destiny" -- the latest man that she hopes will bring her happiness. The day his mother leaves, Brandon takes the first step toward shaping his own destiny. Soon he sends himself spending pleasant days playing with his cousins on his grandparents' farm and trying to forget the past. In the safety of that place, Brandon finally is able to trust the love of an adult to help iron out the wiry places until his nerves are as steady as any other boy's.
But when Sophie Willard shows up a year later with a determined look in her eye and a new man in tow, Brandon's grandparents ignore a judge's ruling and flee the state with Brandon. Creating a new life and identity in a small Florida town, Brandon meets the people who will fill him with self-worth and self-respect. He slowly becomes involved with "God's Hospital," a church run by the gregarious Sister Delores, a woman who is committed to a life of service for all members of the community, black and white, regardless of some townsfolk's disapproval.
A Southern boy becomes a pawn in a dicey custody battle in Morris's uneven second novel, which begins when eight-year-old Brandon Willard's drug addict mother, Sophie, runs off to Canada with the latest man in her life and leaves Brandon with his grandparents in North Carolina. Things unravel with the boyfriend in a hurry, but Sophie's parents refuse to return Brandon, intending to provide him with a stable home. After a court battle, Sophie is awarded custody, but Brandon's grandparents take off with the boy and head for southern Florida, changing their last name to Davidson. Trouble follows the trio after they settle down in a remote fishing village. The African-American church they join is burned down by the Klan after their ill-advised attempt at integration, and Brandon is interviewed by a local TV news crew about the incident. The publicity results in the arrest of his grandparents, and Brandon is returned to Sophie, who has yet another erratic, dangerous boyfriend in tow. In a far-fetched plot twist, the boy is rescued from her clutches by a North Carolina state senator, who remembers Brandon from a school class visit and decides to take him in. Morris's storytelling is solid in the early going, and he makes a credible effort to capture a child's viewpoint, but many of the sets pieces are insistently maudlin. Questionable plot twists-would Brandon's grandparents really leave everything behind?-and treacly writing make this a lackluster follow-up to Morris's well-regarded debut, A Place Called Wiregrass.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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May 31, 2004
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