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Last Updated on August 5, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 653

John Grisham’s semi-autobiographical novel recounts one September in the life of seven-year-old Luke, a poor, baseball-loving, farm boy in 1950s Arkansas. His family is struggling to wrest a meager living by growing cotton on rented acreage. One important thing that Luke stresses is the near impossibility for famers to pull themselves out of the cycle of debt. His mother insists that he learn the day-to-day practicalities of the family business. Cotton is almost certain not to pay for those who must rent land. She also allows him to fantasize about the future he might lead—just so long as it involves leaving the farm.

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[T]he math was so easy you wondered why anyone would want to be a farmer. My mother made sure I understood the numbers. The two of us had already made a secret pact that I would never, under any circumstances, stay on the farm. I would finish all twelve grades and go play for the Cardinals.

As the story is set in 1952, the Korean conflict is going on and many young men have shipped out. Jesse’s younger brother, Ricky, is serving in Korea. His absence allows Luke to have his room, which the boy has mixed feelings about; he would rather have his uncle home safe, so they can play baseball. He cries himself to sleep, worrying that Ricky will never come home.

Ricky was in Korea. It had been snowing when he left us in February, three days after his nineteenth birthday. It was cold in Korea, too. I knew that much from a story on the radio. I was safe and warm in his bed while he was lying in a trench shooting and getting shot at.

One of the subplots concerns Ricky’s relationship with a girl, Libby Latcher. They had not been formally dating before he left, because she was only fifteen, and she is now pregnant. Everyone wonders if they will marry if or when he returns. The situation is complicated because, although the Chandlers are poor, her family is much poorer. Their working arrangement is sharecropping, which means they almost certainly end up each year in considerable debt to the landowner. One day Luke goes with his parents to visit the Latcher family at their home.

I studied their house, a square little box, and wondered once more how so many people could live in such a tiny place . . . I felt very sorry for them . . . It seemed cruel for anyone to live in such conditions. They had no shoes....

(The entire section contains 653 words.)

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