Thomas Clayton Gurley loses his mother, father, and sister to a tragic car accident when he is only fifteen. With no family to care for him, he's forced to live with the dreaded "Bastard Boats," his father's half brother. Boats seems to have a vendetta against young T. C., and it goes back to T. C.'s parents, although T. C. isn't sure why.
In a new town, at a new school, under a hostile roof, T. C. has to fight to survive. He joins up with the high school football team just to get out of the house. He makes friends and begins to experience new things-notably drugs, music, and girls. All the time, though, Boats is on his back. There's a light at the end of the tunnel when T. C. is taken in by Buck and Rosie Hagan, a local foreman and his wife.
Even so, T. C. is haunted by the loss of his family and the oppressive Boats. Something criminal is going down in their tiny Oklahoma town, and Boats is at the center of it. As T. C. grows into a man, he begins to realize the danger Boats could bring upon the Hagans and T. C.'s group of friends. Boats's involvement with a corrupt business cartel could cost lives, and T. C.-once an innocent-will have to stand strong to protect the people he has come to love.