Two groups among us are often pushed to the side: teenagers and the elderly. Both groups are often misunderstood and isolated, shoved into separate buildings (high school and retirement homes). Both often find themselves relying on the kindness and understanding of their families. It is an unsettling dependence, even for those who are well-behaved. But what about those who don't act or react in acceptable ways?Laker Wyatt, four months shy of 17, and Henry Olsen, almost 83, fall into the latter category. Both are floating just outside life's normal currents. Laker has run away from a dysfunctional family, one that has in reality thrown him away. Henry's family, daughter Vera Lynne and granddaughter Charlene, are too much a part of his life since his wife died just over two years ago. Much to his family's dismay, Henry offers the homeless teenager a temporary job and place to live; Laker accepts. This simple offer of sustenance leads to complications, however. Some are predictable; others aren't. Encouraged by Henry, Laker finds a permanent job and returns to school. Henry's health fails, and his family feels resentment towards Laker. Laker and Charlene's precarious relationship deepens. Audrey, Laker's mother, sends him letters and pictures of her new baby. Through it all, Brooks explains the evolution of Laker and Henry's relationship to each other (and to life) through deft descriptions of their surroundings. Laker notices a mitten caught in a tree in Henry's backyard and wonders how it got there and how it has managed to keep hanging on. An old shed that served Henry in earlier years is torn down, but not before everything in it is sorted by Henry, and Vera Lynne discards what she feels Henry no longer needs. Charlene buys Laker a fragile shell necklace that he inadvertently breaks. All are seemingly unrelated events, but all add layers to the story of an unusual friendship.
It is a friendship that twists and turns to fit the challenges life throws this unusual teenager and his equally unusual friend, especially when the three of them (Laker, Charlene, and her grandfather) take a trip to the lake cabin, a place Henry hasn't seen in years. It holds special memories for Henry and his granddaughter and a special surprise for Laker, who has come to appreciate what Henry has told him: You never know where this life will take you. Jamie Whitfield writes from her homes in Tennessee and North Carolina.