The novel is set in the 1920s in Lower East Side of New York City, specifically, on Hester Street. The story takes place in three distinct settings: the tenements on New York's Lower East Side in Hester St. where readers assume the Smolinsky family settled when they first arrived to America, the town of Elizabeth, New Jersey where her father Reb purchased the grocery store, and Sara's college (not named but outside the Jewish immigrant setting).
Sara describes the community in Hester St. as Jewish immigrants who settled with or near family and neighbors in the tenements of New York's Lower East Side, replicating their European communities. Thus, building a Jewish enclave within the Lower East Side of New York.
Sara depicts Elizabeth, New Jersey, differently as a more rural community based on an agricultural economy. The family is seen to interact with an American farmer or presumed Americanized immigrant laborers. Sara and her mother miss the close support of the community of women from the New York City tenements.
Sara becomes entirely lost in the forest of good Christ and after she left for college, Sara portrays her experience as unable to connect with students her age, only those older than her such as the principal of her school and staff.