"If it hadn't been for Darrell, I don't know where I might have ended up," says Brandon Willard at the beginning of Michael Morris' new novel, Slow Way Home. This is irony. Brutal and vindictive, Darrell Foskey saves Brandon only by convincing the boy's mother, Sophie, to run off with him to Canada. Sophie leaves her eight-year-old son at the Raleigh bus station with the phone number of his grandparents and some characteristic parting words: "Don't give me that look. Just don't, okay. This is hard enough on me as it is."

Sophie boards the Greyhound, and nine buses later, Poppy and Nana Willard pull up to the curb. Their white Ford could be a white charger, for here at last are Brandon's cavalry, his real saviors. They sweep the boy away to their old farmhouse, where for the first time he learns what it means to be loved—not intermittently gushed over, not wounded to serve another person's pleasure, but really cared for.

Brandon misses his mother, but he dreads her return. Just when things seemed to have settled down, Sophie does reappear and says she wants her son back. She claims to have pulled her life together at a rehab clinic. "Learned I could either be pitiful or powerful," she declares, but it's obvious she'll continue to be both, at a high cost to Brandon. Faced with a court order to give their grandson back, the desperate Willards take him into hiding. They head down to the Florida Panhandle to live a new life under an assumed name.

Plenty of adventures follow on the Gulf: run-ins with the Klan, a fortuitous friendship with a lady preacher, even a dramatic baptism and visions of Jesus. Brandon finds friends in Florida who become as close as family. There's no rest in pseudonymity, however. Before long the law catches ...

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