Seven-year-old Luke Chandler lives with his parents and grandparents who are cotton farmers. Pappy and his grandmother own the unpainted house and its small acreage, but they lease the fields the family farms. This puts them economically between sharecroppers and landowners. It is a hot and humid Arkansas summer and the cotton is ready for picking, but first Pappy must find a "hill family" and some Mexicans to help with the harvesting. The Spruills are found, and they set up camp right in the front yard, much to the Chandlers' dismay. The Mexicans are housed in a freshly cleaned barn loft. Conflicts ensue, not only on the farm, but also in town on Saturday afternoons. Luke finds himself the keeper of many secrets which is a burden for one so young.
A Painted House is a departure for John Grisham, renowned for his legal thrillers. This novel is somewhat autobiographical, calling on his rural Arkansas roots. Grisham's descriptions of picking cotton are so vivid that the reader senses that the author must have had the experience himself. Luke is not old enough for this to be a "coming of age" story, but it tells of a period between innocence and adolescence in a boy's life.
Reviewed by mb, 3/01. Other reviews by mb.