Physically and sexually abused by his father, then locked in a garden shed without food, Joel spends the night digging his way out through the hard dirt floor with only his hands and a sharp stick. As he reenters the house, he is confronted by the sight of his abuser shooting and killing his mother. After being threatened by his father, the traumatized boy flees the house and wanders in a daze.
Crane Johnson, a wealthy twenty-nine year old bachelor, volunteers time coaching with a policeman friend in the policemen's baseball league for teenage boys. At the completion of one of the team's games, he discovers a lone boy about twelve years old sitting in the bleachers. The boy, dirty, disheveled and unable to speak, appears to be traumatized and can't or won't reveal who he is or where he lives. The boy attaches himself to Crane.
Later Crane discovers that the boy, now known as Joel, has three brothers who were found by police abandoned and locked in a closet of their home.
Set in the beautiful and peaceful South Texas hill country, Crane uses his wealth to fight official corruption and prejudice to keep Joel and his brothers.