Pattyn is seventeen years old and is the oldest of seven girls in a Mormon household. Her father is an alcoholic who beats her mother, believing a wife must succumb to her husband's actions. Her mother believes her duty is to have as many children as possible, especially a boy to carry on the family name, just as her husband wishes. Pattyn's mother, however, only conceived seven girls, named after famous generals: (youngest to oldest) Georgia (George Patton), Roberta (Robert E. Lee), Davie (Jefferson Davis), Teddie (Theodore Roosevelt), Ulyssa (Ulysses S. Grant), Jackie (Jack Pershing), and Pattyn (George Patton). It is alluded to that Pattyn deeply disagrees with the strict Mormon lifestyle she's lived throughout her childhood, as well as the expectations that will be imposed on her as a woman by her Mormon community, and wishes to break free and gain the freedom to become her own person with her own take on life. She appears to also resent her alcoholic father, Stephan Von Stratten, and her oppressed and submissive mother, and also having to care for her six younger sisters during their father's moments of alcohol-induced rage.
Pattyn is unable to take the stress going on in her home, and begins to question her role in life, especially through her father's eyes. Eventually, she starts to experiment with dating Derek without her parents' knowledge. This lead to her getting caught drinking with her boyfriend in the desert, ironically, by her drunken father. Derek, her boyfriend, leaves her for another girl who is more experienced, whom Pattyn punches in the face in rage later on in the story. Pattyn becomes openly defiant and talks back to both her parents and pastor, lashing out and releasing all of the built up emotions and objections she has held for her Mormon lifestyle for a number of years. As a punishment, she is sent away to live with her Aunt Jeanette in eastern Nevada, because her mother is finally expecting a son and does not need to deal with the stress that Pattyn creates.
While Pattyn stays with her Aunt Jeanette, who tells Pattyn to call her "Aunt J", she finds love from her aunt and a boy named Ethan, who studies at UC Davis and is described by Pattyn as "beautiful". Ethan's father, Kevin, was once Aunt J's high school sweetheart, but after he was threatened with a gun and a serious beating from Aunt J's brother (Pattyn's father) for not being Mormon, they were forced to separate.
During the time Pattyn lives with her aunt, she learns how to love and how to be self-confident, and finds out that there is more to life than just religion, which is a belief she had before but was now confirmed. Pattyn is led to believe in God the way her aunt believes in him. Aunt J explains that one does not need "a Mormon husband to meet you at heaven's gates and pull you in", and believes that with love—true and forever love—heaven's gates will open wide. Ethan becomes a dream come true to Pattyn, loving her even though she does not believe that she's beautiful. He teaches her the true meaning of love:
Towards the end of the summer, Ethan and Pattyn don't know what to do after Pattyn receives letters regarding Jackie (the next oldest sister) receiving beatings as a stand in for her pregnant mother. They do not confide in Aunt J in fear that she will contact the authorities. Unfortunately for Pattyn and Ethan, her father wants her back home for the school year.
Pattyn goes back to school as the more confident "new" Pattyn, as she calls herself, but quickly morphs back into "old" Pattyn after her father turns his rage on her. After some time, Pattyn finds out she is pregnant. Ethan and Pattyn plan to keep the baby and raise it together. After a car accident caused by a police officer(friend of Pattyn's dad), however, Ethan dies and Pattyn loses the baby. Filled with a new bitter strength, she vows that she will one day kill her father.