It's the summer of 1961, and thirteen-year-old Frank Drum is living in New Bremen, Minnesota, with his Methodist minister father, mother, older sister, and younger brother. The sister, Ariel, is a gifted young musician, and is bound for Julliard in the fall. Their brother, Jake, speaks with a stutter and so doesn't speak very much at all, but watches and listens and thinks. Ruth Drum, their mother, is a wonderful singer, an excellent music director--and not happy to be married to a minister. She thought she was marrying a hotshot young lawyer; then the war intervened and Nathan came home from the war headed for the ministry instead. Despite that disappointment, Ruth and Nathan have a loving and mutually supportive relationship, and cherish their children. It's an almost idyllic life.
Then a young local boy, Bobby Cole, is found dead on the train tracks, and the police, who doubt he could have been so oblivious as to not hear the train coming, start asking questions. This is followed, much too soon, by Frank and Jake discovering a dead man near the tracks--with an old Indian sitting near the body, a presence they neglect to mention when reporting the body, the first of the summer's many lies.
It also sets the tone for the summer, a series of deaths and questions, mysteries, and lies hiding what's really going on. Frank is crossing into manhood, learning the weaknesses as well as the strengths of his father, the family friend, church handyman, and town drunk Gus, the local cops. He discovers how observant and thoughtful his brother is, and the complexities of his family's relationship with a wealthy local family, the Brandts. Ariel is dating Karl Brandt, and taking music lessons from his uncle Emil, but their mother Ruth also has a past with him. And Jake is one of the few who can easily communicate with Emil's sister Lise, who is deaf and (as Frank, reflecting on events forty years later, realizes) probably autistic.
Before summer is over, tragedy strikes the Drum family, and Frank struggles with the tragedy itself and the fear that it will break his family apart.
This is a thoughtful, beautiful, moving book, a story of ordinary people coping with tragedy and reaching for God's grace.
I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.