The main character, Katie, is 12 years old. She is beginning to develop physically and emotionally. Her mother has died so the only real female role model Katie has is her 18 year old sister, Diane.
Their father is in the Army and they live on an Army base. In fact, they have lived on many bases. Their father is not very in tune to his daughters' needs and seems to be keeping himself together by following his military routine and not allowing himself to notice or feel anything. The girls do not notice the father's pain because they are both working out their own troubles.
Diane is becoming a woman and dating a guy named Dickie Mac. She wants to get away from her physically and emotionally abusive father at any cost. She does seem to truly care about her boyfriend but that may only be because he is different from her father. Diane is searching for the love she doesn't have at home and looking for freedom she cannot have at home. She sneaks out of her house to go to Dickie's and Katie catches her. Mostly Katie cannot believe their dad has not caught Diane coming in so late.
Katie is trying to grow up. Katie also has a huge crush on Dickie and thinks she can get him “to marry her”. She spends time with her friend, Cherylanne, swimming, trying on make-up and having conversations about puberty and boys. Cherylanne is bossy and Katie submits to her overbearing ways because there is no where else to get the information she needs.
Cherylanne tells her which lipstick to wear, how to wear monthly protection, all about cramps, what boys want and not to give it to them. Cherylanne gets her information from magazines and her mother. Katie also seems to spend much of her time alone, observing her family and hiding from her father.
When the sisters learn that their father is being transferred to Missouri, Diane makes plans to secretly escape with her boyfriend. Although she is 18, she is afraid of her father's reaction. Diane invites Katie to go with them. It is when the girls leave for Mexico with Dickie that Katie realizes the implications of some of things her mother told her while she was still alive (He had a very rough childhood.) about her father's life. Katie sees her father “like an animal wrongly tied up” and “He can only go so far in a good direction”.
This report prepared by Jody T. Bixby