Pain, joy, anger and love suffuse Michael Morris' moving novel Slow Way Home, in which a young boy narrates his turbulent journey toward the defining moment in his life. Exploring the meaning of home, Morris builds his novel on the foundation that family and friends more than any place or structure can truly create a home.

When the story opens, 8-year-old Brandon Willard is at the mercy of his neglectful mother, an alcoholic and drug addict. The boy loves his mother, but when she abandons him to follow a boyfriend, he discovers true caring in the arms of the grandparents who take him in. Brandon's peaceful life on his family's North Carolina farm proves be short-lived, however, when his mother returns and demands custody. Determined to save Brandon, his grandparents ignore a court order and flee with him to a coastal Florida town where they assume new identities.

In Florida, the boy assembles an extended family of divergent characters, the good and the bad, the sad and the lost. From charismatic Sister Dolores to cruel Alvin, these struggling individuals leave indelible impressions on Brandon. As the child navigates these relationships, he gains a blossoming sense of self-esteem and a religious faith that remains the only constant factor in the shifting landscape that surrounds him. Morris excels in creating the child's voice: Brandon's attempts to comprehend his teetering world are realistic and, at times, absolutely heart-rending. Brandon experiences moments of pain but also finds redemption and hope. Through the kind acts of strangers and family, he discovers the courage to surmount his own problems and give comfort to others. Morris' debut novel, A Place Called Wiregrass, was a BookSense pick, and in this second effort, he has again crafted an inspiring portrait of a true survivor.

Lisa Porter is a curator at the Cheekwood Museum of Art in Nashville.

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