Jason Skipper's first novel is a tough and tender coming-of-age tale. Chris Saxton is a good kid, the son of a womanizing alcoholic and sometime seafood salesman, grandson of a scammer and ex-con. Growing up in Fort Worth in the shadow of bars, booze and broken dreams, Chris does his best to keep the peace between his co-dependent mom and feckless dad. He fantasizes he can save his family if he becomes a rock star and spends as much time away from home as he can, singing and playing his guitar.

He vacillates between resentment at having to sell shrimp at weekend flea markets while his broken-down dad is drinking in bars, and feeling guilty for spending time with his band when the bills pile up at home. He learns some unsavory lessons from the misfits and grifters his parents bring home and yearns for the stability they can't provide.

Despite pangs of conscience, he's learned the family hustle: He can sell three-day-old shrimp by appraising a customer's shoes and telling him what he wants to hear. But he wants more from life than this. When his father's health worsens just as the band gets a big break, Chris faces the truth of his grandfather's maxim: "We all let down folks we love, and sure enough they do the same." In this auspicious debut, a sensitive young man looks for a way to break free from his tawdry roots and pursue his dreams.

Kathryn Lang is a former senior editor at Southern Methodist University Press.