The book starts with the diary entry of Carolina Maria de Jesus, dated on July 15, 1955, which is the birthday of her youngest and only daughter, Vera Eunice. Carolina writes that she wants to buy shoes for her, but doesn't have money to buy them. While looking around in the trash, she finds a pair of shoes, and decides to clean them and give them to her. During this diary entry, Carolina talks about her everyday activity of finding a way to feed her family. After all that, she enjoys reading and writing, and she hopes one day she could sell her writing.
Carolina lives in a ghetto in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Carolina lives in a shack with her two sons, Jose Carlos and Joao and her daughter. She's unmarried and has no desire. During the novel she has contact with Vera's father, who gives her a small allowance for support, but Carolina is angry over the fact that he lives a better lifestyle while his daughter lives in a ghetto and suffers from hunger.
Carolina talks about her days, walking around the streets, picking up anything that she could sell on the streets. On occasions, she finds foods like vegetables on the streets and she cooks it for her family. Carolina then talks about the Merchants, who often dump rotten food around the ghetto so that the hungry children could eat it. She considers the act as a conspiracy because Merchants throw their rotten food so that hungry children would get sick. This was inspired by a hungry child who ate rotten meat and the next day he was dead.
The search for food never tires Carolina for her true passion, writing. She often submits her writings to editors and publishers, hoping for one day to be published.