Annie's father left his family for a little while when she was a child, but none of them felt abandoned, because it was a family decision for him to go. Her father took his boat down the Allegheny River to New Orleans, which had been on his bucket list ever since he read about boat trips in a book. This coincides with Annie's discovery of adventure, as she has just read Robert Louis Stevenson's 'Kidnapped". She feels like the world is very exciting.
She is also starting to find out more about the world around her, and liking what she finds out. Her home town, Pittsburgh, is newly fascinating to her. She lives in a nice area where women do not have to work and where families live in neighborhoods divided on religious grounds. Annie lives in her own head most of the time, unlike her parents, who are outgoing and exuberant with outstanding senses of humor and a skill for telling jokes as if they are stand up comics by profession.
Annie loves history, and reading, and drawing, so when she turns five it is definitely more than time for her to begin attending Ellis School, which is a girls' school, but she does have some social contact with boys when she also starts Friday evening dance classes, with children from other Presbyterian families in the area. She loves dance class, and also likes to play baseball with her neighbor, Ricky. She remembers these heady days of childhood as energetic, fun, and uncomplicated.
Just like her father, Annie only has to read about something to make it important in her life. Consequently when she reads the stories of Sherlock Holmes, she decides that she wants to become a detective. She also becomes fascinated with the idea of becoming a geologist after inheriting a rock collection from a neighbor. Her parents give her a microscope for Christmas and she is filled with enthusiasm about the things that she sees through its lens, but when her family don't seem as excited about her discoveries she realizes that she might be alone in her love of intellectual pursuit. Fortunately she makes friends with another girl, Judy Schoyer, who has a family who are very intellectual. They invite Annie to weekend with them at their house in the country, in Paw Paw, West Virginia. These weekends feed Annie's imagination, and she graduates from an interest in rocks to both insects and finally to diseases and epidemiology, especially when she finds out the the polio vaccine was developed right in her backyard.
Still a voracious reader, Annie's taste has changed a great deal and is now captivated by historical literature and fiction. World War Two seems a long time ago, and the country is wrapped up in a fear of the Russians and their Eastern Block allies. Annie's family have built a bomb shelter in their basement. It is actually quite comfortable and sometimes Annie imagines what it would be like to live there full time in the case of an actual nuclear war. Annie is now in high school, and starts to attend dances at the country club with the same kids she is with every day in high school. This is also a source of frustration to her; she feels constrained by her family, school and church; she leaves the latter, after writing a personal letter to her minister.
Annie starts to go off the rails as she gets older. She crashes a car at an illicit drag race, and she gets suspended from school after being caught smoking. She feels rebellion bubbling up inside, but despite that, seems to get her life back on track and readies herself to attend Hollins College in Virginia, because she feels that it is time to spread her wings and regain the sense of wonder with the world that she had as a carefree child.