Owen Cross grew up with two loves: one a game, the other a girl. One of his loves ruined him. Now he’s counting on the other to save him.Owen Cross’s father is a hard man, proud in his brokenness, who wants nothing more than for Owen to succeed where he failed. With his innate talents and his father’s firm hand guiding him, Owen goes to college with dreams of the major leagues—and an emptiness full of a girl named Micky Dullahan. Owen loved Micky from the first time they met on the hill between their two worlds: his middle-class home and her troubled Shantytown. Years later he leaves her for the dugouts and the autographs, but their days together follow him. When he finally returns home, he discovers that even peace comes at a cost. And that the hardest things to say are to the ones we love the most. From bestselling author Billy Coffey comes a haunting story of small-town love, blinding ambition, and the risk of giving it all for one last chance.
Owen Cross is a young boy from a lower middle-class family who just happens to have superior natural talent when it comes to the game of baseball. His father is a hard-working but embittered man nursing a broken spirit after a career ending injury brought his own professional sports dreams to a screeching halt. Now the father puts all the hopes on the son to bring pride and fame back to the family name. From an early age, Owen shows laser focus when it comes to his MLB dreams. That is, until the fateful day he comes face to face with Shantytown girl Michaela "Micky" Dullahan. From that day forward, professional baseball and Micky will play a constant tug-o-war on Owen's heart and mind.
"Your love's all wrapped up in a thing that can't love you back,
and you'll only come to harm because of it."
The time period of Steal Away Home alternates between grown Owen as a Minor League player in the early 2000s and his childhood spanning the 1980s and 90s. In the retrospective chapters, or "innings" as Coffey playful titles them here, we follow Owen from the first meetings with Micky, through junior high and high school up to the day he leaves his hometown of Camden, Virginia to attend college in Ohio.
Owen always has to keep his relationship with Micky as secret. Though they go to the same school, they avoid any acknowledgement of each other beyond furtive glances. It's explained that because Micky is from Shantytown, socially she's basically considered the town's unclean, untouchable, too-poor-to-be-anything-but-pitied/reviled-from-a-distance population. Hard to make sense of this though, when you consider that Owen's economic situation wasn't really ALL that much better: his school clothes primarily come off the JC Penney clearance racks, his mom makes minimum wage at the town library and his dad works as the janitor at Owen's school. Owen flatly points out that his baseball skills are literally the only thing that keeps him from being socially ostracized himself. Still, he's all about keeping his seat at the cool kids' table.
"People's just lost... It's like we don't even understand
what living is no more."
It took me about half the book to realize it, but at that point it dawned on me that I did not like Owen. The guy was pretty selfish when you get down to it. It seems like Owen never hesitated too much to throw Micky under the proverbial bus whenever his social standing was even slightly at risk. Yet Micky continued to profess love for this kid! When Micky finds a dream she wants to pursue for herself and the good of her fellow Shantytown residents, he harps on her to drop it and do what HE wants if she TRULY loves him. Nope, this reader was not having it. Micky was clearly the better soul in my book.
With the novel starting in the millennial era and periodically looking backwards, there is a mystery / possible crime story hinted at, clues to which are only given to the reader in the tiniest portions until at least the halfway point where the action on that front picks up a bit. Once Owen leaves Camden for college, we see that some characters from earlier in the story have gone missing in his time away, and certain clues hint that possible criminal activity may be linked to these characters. Be patient though, because Coffey's holding some cards up his author sleeve and he's not going to let you make sense of it all til the closing moments!
Of all of Billy Coffey's novels that I've read to date, this has not been one of my favorites. Many of the elements felt pretty underdeveloped, at least with the home drama storylines. It certainly can't be said he skimped on the baseball game sections, those portions actually dragged a bit for me. Just a lot of Owen in the dugout with his thoughts for pages on end, least until it was his turn at the plate... but it felt like he spent a lot of time on the bench for a catcher! LOL Speaking of the game though, Coffey notes at the beginning of the book that the game described here (the opening game, I think he's referring to) is actually inspired by an actual game that went down between the Baltimore Orioles and the New York Yankees in the summer of 2001.
The romantic relationship between Owen and Micky did, at times, have a charm to it that I enjoyed. Theirs was a young relationship that was full of sweet, naive, intense promises that most of us can probably relate to on some level, remembering back to our first loves. But something there fell short for me, didn't quite hit maximum heartstring tug.
One thing I will give this book though -- even if the plot had some missed opportunities (IMO), there were some undeniably great lines of prose I would tip my hat to, if i wore one while I read. If you're familiar with Coffey's previous books and wonder about his trademark light fantasy / magical realism touch he tends to weave into his stories, it is still present here but it's much more faint than in his previous novels.
There is always tomorrow, until there is not.
FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.
*Musician Eddie Heinzelman composed a song entitled "Dandelion", inspired by Coffey's Steal Away Home! You can check out the song HERE.