Now in high school, Clifton doesn't think of himself as black or white. He is simply surviving, most of the time on his own since his mother has been lost in depression since the death of her husband. She spends her nights working at a dead-end job and her days lost in alcohol and cigarette smoke.
A balloon-release activity at Clifton's high school inspires him to try his own experiment. He writes short notes and sets them adrift in a nearby river in his mother's discarded wine bottles. Just making contact with someone far away from his own messed up world gives Clifton the courage to continue.
One day a letter arrives from a stranger who calls himself Swamper and Clifton is amazed. When he discovers the stranger lives within walking distance from the release point he used for his message-carrying bottles, he is at first disappointed but still interested in meeting the man.
Swamper lives alone in the woods. He spends his time catching catfish and selling them to a fishmonger who motors by each day to purchase his catch. Clifton is immediately fascinated by Swamper's lifestyle and falls into helping him as he casts his trot lines. He doesn't even question much when he learns that Swamper already knows about his father's tragic death. It just feels good to be with someone so sure of his place and so willing to spend time with a young teen.
Scott Loring Sanders explores the issue of racial prejudice in GRAY BABY. He presents the all too common white against black crime and relates the aftermath it creates for survivors. The plot could have gotten bogged down by the racial situation, but Sanders introduces several other situations that focus readers on the fact that bitterness as a result of crime and tragedy is not always black and white. Throughout the novel Clifton struggles with his place in life but a combination of determination and the encouragement of an old man help him find a way to carry on.