CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert

Read this if you’re in the mood for: realistic contemporary YA, tough issues, character-driven novel, character development, coming of age, literary story

Summary: Ten years ago, God gave Braden a sign, a promise that his family wouldn’t fall apart the way he feared.

But Braden got it wrong: his older brother, Trey, has been estranged from the family for almost as long, and his father, the only parent Braden has ever known, has been accused of murder. The arrest of Braden’s father, a well-known Christian radio host, has sparked national media attention. His fate lies in his son’s hands; Braden is the key witness in the upcoming trial.

Braden has always measured himself through baseball. He is the star pitcher in his small town of Ornette, and his ninety-four-mile-per-hour pitch already has minor league scouts buzzing in his junior year. Now the rules of the sport that has always been Braden’s saving grace are blurred in ways he never realized, and the prospect of playing against Alex Reyes, the nephew of the police officer his father is accused of killing, is haunting his every pitch.

Braden faces an impossible choice, one that will define him for the rest of his life, in this brutally honest debut novel about family, faith, and the ultimate test of conviction.

Read this if you like:
WHAT WE LOST by Sara Zarr (originally pubbed as ONCE WAS LOST)
WHAT WE LOST also deals with questions of faith (in a non-preachy way, with zero agenda) and a highly religious but equally imperfect family. Like CONVICTION, it's set in a small town that faces national attention after a tragedy, and both books have nuanced characters.

EVERY LAST PROMISE by Kristin Halbrook
CONVICTION and EVERY LAST PROMISE are from the POV of a witness who doesn't know whether or not to speak up about something terrible, and both books portray people with all of their complexities. The endings (no spoilers!) are authentic to the story as well as the main characters.

The Rec: I read CONVICTION because I.W. Gregorio gushed about it at a signing, and now I understand why. This is one of the most disturbing and complex father-son relationships I've seen — dealing with alcoholism & physical violence, extreme pressure to do well in baseball, emotional abuse, and plenty of conservative Christian guilt.

As a reader, your knowledge of their relationship deepens with each of Braden's memories, and Braden's voice is so authentic, so loyal, that I sometimes had to re-read a paragraph for it to hit me just how awful his father is. Braden's staunch belief in the good of his father, and in what his father has taught him, blinds him to the truth. As much as I wanted him to wake up, I understood that it's self-preservation for Braden to believe that the person who raised him (and literally the only person who hasn't abandoned him) is not a monster.

Braden's estranged (and very flawed) brother, Trey, helps him to begin listening to that nagging voice that says their dad isn't the man Braden wants him to be. As the trial approaches, you piece together the puzzle of what happened the night the officer died, and you have no idea what Braden will say when he takes the witness stand. It doesn't disappoint.

(On the lighter side, bonus points for a spot-on title with a double meaning.)

The Caveat: Don't let the inclusion of religion or baseball turn you off if you're not fans of either! This is very much a character-driven story, and those just happen to be major topics in Braden's life. With that said, it starts a little slowly and builds, but I dare you not to speed through the ridiculously compelling final third of the book.

You should read this because: CONVICTION has one of the most intense and dark father-son relationships I've ever read — the character portrayals in the book are nuanced and incredible. It makes you think about the complex nature of love, loyalty, and faith, and it stays with you long after you've finished.

Read this book!
CONVICTION by Kelly Loy Gilbert (Disney-Hyperion, May, 2015)

Recommendation by: Donna