Ole Kaelo is suddenly fired from his job at Agribix Limited, where he has worked for over twenty years. Now, Kaelo returns home to the village of Nasila with plans to start his own business. His daughters, Resian and Taiyo, must leave behind life in Nakuru (a city of nearly 600,000) and acclimate to their new life in a rural Kenyan village. Upon arriving in Nasila, Ole Kaelo and his wife, Mama Milanoi, reunite with Simiren (Kaelo's brother), his four wives, and their children.
Resian is the youngest, and the black sheep of the family. She longs to go to university, and like her older sister Taiyo, she struggles to adjust to life in Nasila. Taiyo is a model child. She respects the authority of her parents and is clearly favored by them. The move to Nasila is a return to Ole Kaelo and Mama Milanoi's roots. It is the place where they grew up and where they first met. As such, the move creates a clash between modernity and tradition, illustrated by the village's reluctance to fully accept Resian and Taiyo, who are uncircumcised. At a welcome home party for the Kaelos, Resian and Taiyo encounter a man who harassed and threatened them on their first day in town for being uncircumcised.
Kaelo visits his former mentor, Supeyo, who warns him that the man helping to finance Kaelo's new business is a criminal named Oloisudori. In an effort to help his daughters adjust to Nasila, Kaelo instructs a young man named Joseph Parmuat to teach his daughters about their culture. Taiyo becomes infatuated with Joseph but later discovers that as a member of her clan, Joseph is considered her brother. Oloisudori makes an unexpected visit to the Kaelo home and meets Resian, who finds him ill-mannered, misogynistic, and creepy. After leaving her house to get away from Oloisudori, Resian finds Taiyo and Joseph. Joseph tells the girls a fable about the origins of female circumcision (described by Western agencies as female genital mutilation, or FGM). According to the fable, it was the Maa women who began the ritual rite of passage as an effort to resist the sexual violations of their conquerors.
Oloisudori asks Kaelo to marry Resian, who is old enough to be his daughter. Meanwhile, Taiyo professes her love to Joseph Parmuat, who reciprocates her feeling but feels conflicted about the implications and social backlash they would face from their clan. Ole Kaelo and Mama Milanoi oppose the strict traditional customs of arranged marriages and female circumcision, but are completely dependent on Oloisudori financially, and agree to the proposition. Resian grows more discontent with her life and has agreed to endure the circumstances, with the understanding that Taiyo will raise the issue of Egerton University with Kaelo. However, Taiyo never finds the right moment to tell Kaelo about her sister's ambitions.
One day while walking back home from their father's store, Resian and Taiyo are attacked by the two men that harassed them on their first day in Nasila. They narrowly escape rape when one of their father's handymen, Olarinkoi, happens to see the situation and beats the men before they can assault the girls. Resian and Taiyo try to tell their parents what happened, but resolve to tell them the next morning at breakfast. When Kaelo finds out, he gathers all the men in the village and goes in search of the attackers. They find the two men, who grovel at the feet of the elders and beg forgiveness. The lives of the two men are spared; one turns out to be a distant relative, which means that the penance prevented escalation and intra-tribal war.
Oloisudori arrives at the Kaelo home with a dowery and a ring for Resian who is still unaware of her impending arranged marriage. Kaelo begins to tell Resian, but she interrupts him, and finally raises the question of university. Ole Kaelo ignores her and says that she can always study in the future after she gets married. When Mama Milanoi finally tells Resian that she will marry Oloisudori, Resian confronts her father and tell Kaelo that she refuses to marry Oloisudori. Kaelo slaps her and she runs away to a river, where Olarinkoi finds her. He tells Resian that Ole Kaelo is searching for her along with Oloisudori and the woman who performs the ritual of FGM. Olarinkoi tells Resian that he can help her escape Oloisudori, and she agrees.
Olarinkoi takes Resian to a remote hut and attempts to sexually assault her. Resian bites Olarinkoi's thumb and nearly cuts it off. He beats her within an inch of her life, but does not rape her. Over the next three weeks, Resian is nursed back to health by an elderly medicine woman named Nabaru. Resian pleads with Nabaru to help her escape Olarinkoi, who now plans to take Resian as his wife and have her circumcised. In the middle of the night, Nabaru takes Resian to a truck and drives her to a farm for runaway girls run by a woman named Minik. After a few days on the farm, a new girl arrives who turns out to be Taiyo. After Resian escaped, Ole Kaelo had Taiyo circumcised in order to marry Oloisudori. Joseph Parmuat helped Taiyo escape, but in the process was of doing so was murdered by Oloisudori's thugs. When Oloisudori and his gang arrive at the farm, they are attacked by the hundreds of girls who work on the farm and they flee. Minik gives Resian and Taiyo a scholarship to attend Egerton University.