The novel takes place over a few days in late August. It tells the story of 12-year-old tomboy Frankie Addams, who feels disconnected from the world; in her words, an "unjoined person." Frankie's mother died when she was born, and her father is a distant, uncomprehending figure. Her closest companions are the family's African American maid, Berenice Sadie Brown, and her six-year-old cousin, John Henry West. She has no friends in her small Southern town and dreams of going away with her brother and his bride-to-be on their honeymoon in the Alaskan wilderness.
The novel explores the psychology of the three main characters and is more concerned with evocative settings than with incident. Frankie does, however, have a brief and troubling encounter with a soldier. Her hopes of going away are disappointed and, her fantasy destroyed, a short coda reveals how her personality has changed. It also recounts the fate of John Henry West, and Berenice Sadie Brown's future plans.