By Kelly Loy Gilbert

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A teenage boy faces an impossible choice in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction, that was the winner of the Children’s Choice Book Awards’ Teen Choice Debut Author Award.

Ten years ago, Braden was given a sign—a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared. But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in his father’s upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four mile per hour pitch already has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.


Copyright © 2015 by Kelly Loy Gilbert
Cover illustration and lettering (car) © 2015 by Chris Silas Neal
Cover design by Maria Elias

All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Hyperion, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4847-1943-5


Hebrews 11:1

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

The San Francisco Giants took the St. Louis Cardinals 8–3 in a Saturday game at AT&T Park ten years ago, and that was the last time my family—my dad, my older brother Trey, and me—all went to a game together. I was in first grade then, and that was before I knew too much about all the different ways your life can fall apart, but still, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that most of what I believe now is because of what happened that day between me and God.

The game was the first time in forever that the three of us had done anything as a family, and it was a big deal to me because the way you hear how other families are into things like Christmas or relatives or whatever, baseball’s always been the thing my family’s had. I’m a pitcher—I’m expected to go out as a first-round draft pick when I graduate next year—and back then baseball was my whole life already. I’d been lying awake in bed thinking about the game for weeks beforehand, and when the night before finally came, I knelt on my bedroom carpet and rested my forehead on my bed and asked God to give me some kind of sign. I know it’s not like if you come up with the magic combination of words to pray he’ll spit out whatever crap you ask him to, like your own personal vending machine, but all week I’d put my best into my pitching and I’d been extra careful to obey my dad, and so this was the deal I made with God: if he would give me some unmistakable sign, one that could only come from him, then I would take it as a promise that everything would be all right between my dad and Trey.

It’s about two and a half hours west to San Francisco from Ornette, where we live in the Central Valley—all long, flat roads where the tule fog rises from the ground and pools at the bottom of the valley against the foothills, a place that back then I always thought was so safe. We drove out through the country club by our house and past the vineyards and the huge ranch homes up in the hills, past one of the giant billboards with my dad’s face on it, and as orchards of almond trees flicked by outside the window, I kept watch for what might be my sign.

Trey was graduating from high school that year, and the whole drive to San Francisco, my dad was teasing him about proposing to his girlfriend, Emily. Well, half teasing, because my dad always wanted them to get married. He’d said more than once that she was Trey’s biggest accomplishment in life.

“You want a crazy way to propose?” he said when we were passing through La Abra and he’d locked the car doors and sped up. La Abra’s our rival, and every year when we go there to play them we might as well be crossing an invisible border into some third world country: small faded homes and rundown apartments all crammed together with barred windows, dirt yards with chain-link fences and vicious-looking pit bulls, a twenty-four-hour bail-bond place. We used to stop in La Abra once in a while to eat at this place my dad liked, but then he found out the owners were illegals, and we quit going. My dad’s lived here long enough to remember when La Abra was still a safe, quiet farming town full of the same kind of people you’d find in Ornette, families who’ve been around for generations, and he’s always going on about how now La Abra’s proof that we’re letting the country fall apart. All I know is you couldn’t pay me to walk around there after dark.

“This one’s in the Bible, swear to God. Go bring Em’s dad a hundred Philistine foreskins. That’s what King David did when he wanted King Saul’s daughter as a wife. That’s what Saul made him do. Except then David got two hundred.” He’d winked at me in the rearview mirror and turned his eyes from the road to grin at Trey. “Michal must’ve been a real looker, huh?”

In the passenger seat, Trey adjusted the headphones he was wearing. He stared out the window. When the mounting silence in the car felt too thick to breathe through, I said, brightly, “Ha, good one, Dad. Good advice.”

The look my dad gave me in the rearview mirror was half warning, half plea: Don’t you turn out like your brother. Trey was always his cautionary tale about what happened if you threw away your potential, if you were lazy and didn’t have integrity in how you did things. It hadn’t been a great couple of months at home, but this time all he said to Trey was, “You’ll regret it if you don’t lock her down before you leave for college.” He pressed on the word college like a bruise; he wasn’t happy Trey was going to a school with no baseball team and a reputation for smoking pot. “I mean it,” he added. “I’m just trying to help.” Trey tilted his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes like he was trying to sleep.

Back then, before New York and before his restaurant, Trey was a catcher. He was good, too, which made it all the worse that he was never willing to give the game very much of himself. It killed my dad the way Trey just never cared.

We were at the park early so we could watch batting practice before the game. We bought hot dogs for all of us and a pretzel for me and a beer for my dad, and on our way down to the field level, my dad took us the long way around the concourse to point out all the retired jersey numbers on display. Trey made it a point to look as bored as possible, and my dad, who’d been talking about the game for weeks, was disappointed. He’s always liked stuff like that, and I have, too; baseball’s nothing if not proof of all the ways history matters to you. That’s why the stats get so specific, like a guy’s batting average with two men on base, a guy’s pitching record against left-handed hitters in games at home when the team’s up by three runs or more—that kind of thing. You’re always playing against the past.

I’d brought my glove just in case, and when we made our way down the stadium steps behind home plate, I got that anxious, rattling feeling in my heart I still get sometimes when I take the mound before an important game, and just like that, I knew what I was supposed to ask for: that I would catch a foul ball today at the park. That would be my sign from God.

Where our seats were in right field you wouldn’t get foul balls, so it would have to be now during batting practice. I drifted away a few steps from Trey and my dad and angled myself just behind the dugout where the protective fence dropped off, the best place to catch a ball. We stood there a while, watching the balls fly out across the field.

I was nervous. My hand was sweaty inside my glove. To distract myself, I asked Trey, “Who’s your favorite player?”

“My favorite?” Trey considered it, like he figured I deserved some kind of actual, thoughtful answer. I know there’s a lot you could say against my brother, but back then he was always nice like that with me. “Probably Hummer.”

“Hummer?” my dad repeated. “Trey. You’re killing me. Stab me in the heart, why don’t you. That kid looks like a fairy. And he plays like a humpback whale who swallowed a whole cow.” I giggled, and my dad wrapped his arm around me. “The heck do you like about Hummer?”

“I’ve always liked him,” Trey said. “Maybe I’ll get a jersey.”

My dad snorted. “Be a cold day in hell before I buy that for you.” He’s always said you should never wear a jersey with another guy’s name on it, because it’s weak and unambitious to only want to be as good as someone else who’s done it already. Trey knew that, obviously; he said it just to get at my dad. I agreed it’s weird to wear someone else’s name across your back, but I also kind of felt like if you were going to, you might as well pick someone as terrible as Hummer, because then you still know you’re better.

“I’ll buy one myself, then,” Trey said. Then he added, pretend-casually, “Who needs your money.”

I tensed. But this time all my dad said was, “Hummer, huh. Trey, that’s just embarrassing. You could kick his ass.”

Trey considered that, started to say something, then changed his mind. “Yeah, well, Braden could probably kick his ass.”

My dad had just bit into his hot dog, and he spit it out into his cup of beer because that made him laugh, and I felt better then. He held out his spit-in beer to Trey, the half-chewed chunk of hot dog at the bottom.

“Here,” he said, grinning. “Drink this. It’s yours now. You earned it.”

“No, you did that. You drink it,” Trey said, but he started up the stairs and came back a few minutes later with another beer for my dad, and no Hummer jersey. I guess he didn’t get carded; Trey always looked older, and anyway, people usually kind of go along with what he says.

“You didn’t have to,” my dad said. “Here. I’ll pay you back.” Trey waved off the bill my dad tried to give him until my dad folded it in half and slipped it in Trey’s back pocket. Then my dad looked down at me and squeezed my shoulder. “So how about you, B? Tell me I’ve at least raised you right. Who’s your favorite player?”

I knew it wasn’t just any question; it was a test. He’d take it as evidence that I was or wasn’t going to be like Trey. So I thought a little while, and it didn’t count exactly, because it had been years since he played, but I said, “You.” It caught him by surprise, but it also made him happy, just like I’d known it would, and the way he squeezed my shoulder made me feel like I was maybe a step closer to getting my sign from God.

We stood waiting as the balls rained down on the field. There were a few dozen close calls, and I had my glove ready each time and my heart kept picking up as I’d flash forward to what it would feel like to know God had personally promised something to me. But then each time the ball would drift back twenty rows, or it’d fall down onto the field. Each time I felt my faith eroding. When batting practice ended, I had two autographs Trey had gotten for me, but no foul balls.

The game started, and my dad settled down in his seat to talk it through with me. Maybe it’s partly all the years on the radio, but when it comes to baseball, he can turn it into something no one else can, like he’s stripping tarnish off an old mirror layer by layer so you slowly start to see everything reflected back at you and you start to see yourself and your own place in it, too. I was distracted that day as he went over the different pitches and plays, quizzing me occasionally and acting proud when I knew the right answers. He wanted me to pay attention to baseball’s unwritten code of honor, making sure I could tell whether everyone was doing the right thing at all times.

In the fourth inning, the Cardinals second baseman, who’d just hit a ground-rule double, cut to second base across the pitcher’s mound, and—because I was too absorbed wondering what I’d done wrong with God, why he’d ignored my prayer—I noticed only when my dad stiffened and sucked in his breath.

“You see that?” he said. “What’d he do wrong there?”

I knew the answer: it’s pure, calculated disrespect for anyone but the pitcher to set foot on the mound. But before I could say it, Trey said, “Relax, Braden. It’s just a game,” and the disgust and disappointment that crossed my dad’s face was so sharp it made me think I’d been wrong—that after all that, this was my sign that things would never be all right.

“A game?” my dad said scathingly, loud enough that the people around us turned to look. “That’s all this is to you? You don’t give a fig what I’ve tried to teach you all your life about integrity, is that it? You think this is nothing more than eighteen guys batting a ball around with a stick?”

Trey was going to say something unfixable. I knew he was, and I knew he’d been close to doing it for a while, for months maybe, and I was certain then that God had failed me. I was just a kid, but I knew already how sometimes you can feel the slipping point just before it happens: that vast, awful stretch of possibility that’ll hang there waiting to haunt you forever once it’s past.

But then, before Trey could speak, everyone around us jumped to their feet and started yelling, and the three of us broke that ugly triangle we were caught in and looked up. And then it happened: the ball Cole Hummer had just hit flew and flew, out toward where we were sitting in right field, and Trey stopped short of whatever he was going to say. On pure instinct, I jammed my glove on my hand, and then the ball was coming right to me and I reached up and caught it and it landed hard and stinging against my palm in a way that could only be my sign from God.

There’s a lot that’s magic about baseball. I don’t mean that as in superstition or coincidence or luck, because more than anything, baseball is mechanics and effort and hard work. Even in first grade I knew that; even then my life was shaped and measured in metrics and repetitions and stats. But there’s magic in the way it comes together and in the way it makes you who you are. There’s magic in the way that, when you’re good enough, you can stand on a mound in front of forty thousand people who’ve watched and lived your past with you and prove you’ve earned the right to be there.

But this is the thing about it that’s the most magic about it of all: that it opens up a stage for God to give you moments like that. That you can go watch a game with your dad and your brother and have a night together that winds up being as close to perfect as anything in your life has ever come. That it can give you something to hold on to when you need it most. Like when you’re six and in church on Mother’s Day, and all the kids are told to stand up and give their moms a hug and you try to pretend you’re not there; or when you’re seven, and for reasons you’ve still never understood, your brother drops out of college and quits talking to your dad altogether and stops coming home.

Or when you’re sixteen, and without warning, before you even understand what’s happening, your dad, the best man you know and the person who taught you right from wrong, is arrested at gunpoint on the street outside your house.

At the police station in La Abra, I’m frisked: arms above my head and my legs spread apart while someone runs his hands across my body, my face hot and my heart thudding so hard I’m sure he can hear it, and I’m too afraid to ask what’s going on. When he’s done, I’m taken to a cramped, stuffy room with no windows and a door that shuts heavy and holds the sound in the room like a trap. There are two cops sitting at a long metal table under a garish fluorescent light. The cops are wearing dark blue uniforms and they’re both trim and wiry-looking, men you could imagine throwing someone against the asphalt. One’s black. The white one says, “Braden Raynor?”

My voice comes out scratchy. “Yes, sir.”

“Have a seat.”

Outside, the night is so thick with tule fog you’d think someone dragged a tarp over everything and pounded all its edges down with stakes. As I was being driven here the streetlamps and traffic signals were shrouded in that eerie gray and nothing looked familiar, not even when we drove by places I’ve known all my life, and everything I need to say has turned to dust on my tongue. “I need to—can—can I see my dad?”

“He’s in the facilities in Grovemont.”

“The facilities?”

The look he gives me is pure contempt. “Jail.”

The word hits me like I’m taking a fastball to the chest. “Sir, I think there must be some kind of mistake because—maybe you don’t know who my dad is, but he—”


His tone shuts me up, not just the tone but how fast it turned like that, and I obey. The lights in this room are hurting my eyes. When I close them, I see the fear blooming on my dad’s face as the cops drew their guns on him, the three officers who wrenched his arms in place while another one locked him into handcuffs. And I see myself watching it all happen, still and silent on the driveway.

If it had been me instead of him, he wouldn’t have just stood there like I did.

“Tell us what happened tonight,” the first cop says now, his voice breaking the silence like gunfire. My eyes fly open again.

“Nothing happened. We were just—it was too foggy to see—”

The night catches up to me then, all of it, and I run out of air. I lower my head toward my lap and try to breathe. When I raise my head, the first cop’s gripping the edge of the table like he wants to dent it.

“You,” he says quietly, “are going to tell us exactly what happened tonight.”

I open my mouth, but I can’t get enough air to speak.

The white cop leans forward, so close that if he wanted to, he could reach out and grab me around the neck. “What were you and your father doing in the car? Were you out hunting him?”

I don’t know who he’s talking about. “Sir, I don’t—”

He leans in even closer. The corners of his mouth are pinched white. “Your father thought he’d get away with this?”

“He wasn’t trying to get away with—we were just coming home, and then—I don’t even know what’s—”

“He was just waiting for his chance, wasn’t he?”

There’s something awful in his expression, and it feels like he’s reached down my throat and grabbed my lungs in his fist. “Did someone—” I try to swallow. “Did someone get hurt?”

“Hurt?” he repeats, spitting out the word like it’s poison. “Hurt? Is that what your dad told you to say when you ran Frank down? Huh?” He’s shaking, his jawline vibrating like a guitar string about to snap. He curls his hands around each other as if he can barely stop himself from slamming them into something, and then something loosens in his face and before he turns away, I swear I see his eyes are wet. “Your father just murdered one of our very best men.”

At home, even with every single light on and the alarm system activated—I checked twice—I can still feel my pulse in every one of my fingertips and I have that feeling in the back of my neck you get when you think someone’s following you. All three thousand square feet of the empty house feel like they’re pressing on my chest.

It’s late, and it’s even later in New York, but I call Trey. Pick up, I plead silently. Pick up, pick up, pick up. He doesn’t. I tell myself he’s just sleeping with his phone turned off, that if he saw I was calling him for the first time in over two years, he’d answer. Finally, I text: Dad just got arrested. Please call me. I don’t know what to do.

I watch the clock. I track when it’s six a.m. in New York, when it’s seven, when it’s eight. I fall asleep sitting upright on the couch, and when I wake up with a start, there’s still no calls. I remind myself Trey always liked to sleep in late.

The knock on the door, sharp and insistent, comes just after I wake. When I get up and look out the window to see who it is, there’s a woman standing on the doorstep. She’s youngish for an adult, probably a few years younger than Trey, dark-skinned, kind of hot. I’ve never seen her before in my life. She’s wearing this skirt-suit thing that clings to her chest and carrying a clipboard, and she makes eye contact. She gives a little wave.

I should’ve pretended not to see her. Against my better judgment, I open the door.

“Hello,” she says, her lips stretching into a professional-looking smile. “I’m Melanie Ramos, LCSW.” She holds out her hand. “You’re Braden, I presume?”

I stare down at her outstretched hand, long enough I guess that she figures out that her name and the string of letters after it mean nothing to me.

“A social worker, Braden,” she says, enunciating like I don’t speak English. “May I come in?”

There’s a feeling every pitcher gets in a game that’s spiraling out of control, when you can’t find the strike zone or you’re giving yourself away to your batters, and I have that feeling now. The social worker comes into the living room and plants herself on one of the leather recliners without waiting to be invited. She rests her clipboard on her knees. “You have a lovely home here, Braden.”

I’m not in the mood to talk interior design. “All right.”

She looks the tiniest bit amused. “Well, let’s get down to business here. I understand that your father has sole custody of you, Braden?”


“And your mother’s no longer alive, Braden?”

I think the fastest way to make someone not trust you is to overuse their name. “No.”

“Braden, do you have other adult relatives nearby—grandparents, maybe, or aunts and uncles?”

I thought at first that maybe she was here to help my dad get back somehow, but I don’t like wherever this is going. I say, “I’ve got an older brother.” A half brother, technically, since he has a mom, Elaine, who’s lived in Connecticut ever since she left my dad when Trey was young. A brother who still hasn’t called me back.

“How old is your brother?”

“He’s twenty-eight.”

She glances around the room like she thinks maybe I’ve got him stashed off in the corner or something. “And does he live here with you?”

“No.” It’s been nearly ten years since Trey left home. The last time I even saw him was five years ago in sixth grade when he flew out to be the best man in Kevin’s wedding, and he took me to lunch and made me bike to the gas station on the corner to meet him so he wouldn’t have to see my dad. “He lives in New York.”

“I see.” She writes something down on her clipboard. “What does he do there?”

“He owns a restaurant.”

“And, Braden, what’s his family situation there?”

“He doesn’t have a family there.”

She sets down her pen and leans forward, her hands clasped in her lap. “You’ve probably figured out, Braden, that I’m asking because my job here today is to make sure you’re placed in the care of a temporary legal guardian right away.” She pauses. “Now, am I correct in thinking that your brother sounds like the best candidate?”

“Wait,” I say. I look around the room to ground myself back in my normal life: the remotes tossed on the leather ottoman, the stack of Sports Illustrated magazines by my dad’s favorite chair. “I don’t think I understand what’s happening here. I know my dad’s not here right now, but I mean—how long can this possibly last?”

She runs her tongue over her teeth. I can feel her thinking of what to say, and I’m about to tell her that obviously I’m fine at home by myself for the time being, I’m not going to starve or trash the house or anything, but then before I can get the words out an awful feeling like a premonition creeps in and spreads through me. The white-hot terror of all those guns drawn and aimed at our car, the claustrophobia of being questioned at the station by the cops—those things felt like a nightmare I’d wake up from in the morning. It’s this moment—sitting in my own living room with this calm, professional-looking stranger in the daylight—that I suddenly realize I might have to mark as the time when I understood this wasn’t going to just easily go away overnight.

I realize the social worker said something else I didn’t hear. “Sorry,” I say. “Um, could you say that again?”

“What I’d like for us to do right now is to contact your brother and get the ball rolling so we can avoid having to transfer custody to the state.”

I try to imagine what it would feel like to ask Trey to come back here on a moment’s notice. I try to imagine what it would feel like for him to say no.

There’s a pounding on the door. The social worker and I glance up at the same time and see out the window what looks like—you have got to be kidding me—a news crew setting up in front of my house.

The social worker flies off the couch and across the room and has the door open before I have time to react.

“If you don’t remove everything from this property immediately, I’ll have you arrested for trespassing and harassment of a minor,” I hear her yell at someone. “Get out. Do not test me. Get out.” She slams the door so hard I feel it shake, and then she comes back, smooths her skirt, and sits back down.

The whole interaction took less than ten seconds. But in that quick flash of time while she was gone, something invisible happened, something that’s left me reeling. I rest my palms on my knees and try to breathe.

I know I need God right now, more than I ever have in maybe my whole life, so while the social worker was gone I tried to pray: Please let all this go away. Please tell me it’ll be over soon.


  • * "A poignant look at the messiness of love, faith, and humanity."—School Library Journal

  • *"Gilbert respectfully and sensitively handles themes of faith, religion, and family [a] moving debut."—Booklist

  • *"There are no easy answers. Love is both beautiful and cruel. God is both loving and mysterious. And family is both comforting and suffocating. Both hopeful and devastatingly real."—Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
May 19, 2015
Page Count
352 pages

Kelly Loy Gilbert

About the Author

Kelly Loy Gilbert believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to complex, broken people. She is the author of Conviction, a William C. Morris Award finalist, and lives in the SF Bay Area. She would be thrilled to hear from you on Twitter @KellyLoyGilbert or at

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