Hazel breaks societal expectations of how a young lady of the early 1900s should behave by first joining the suffragist movement in England and then trying to fight for the freedom of plantation slaves in the Caribbean. Hazel Mull-Dare is a restless English girl who is bored of how normal her life is and wishes for some excitement to enter her life. The year is 1913 and she and her family attend a race at the Epsom Derby where the King's own horse is racing. The race is disrupted when a woman runs onto the track abd is trampled. The woman is taken away to hospital, but not before she is berated by racegoers, including her own father. Hazel learns that the woman is part of the suffragist movement, a movement that is looked down upon by those of proper breeding. Hazel is curious to know more about the suffragist movement but her father and most people don't seem interested in discussing it.
Hazel attends the Kensington School for the Daughters of Gentlemen where she learns how to be a respectable lady. One day at school, one of her friends, an American named Gloria, stirs up trouble by drawing a dirty picture involving the teacher, Miss Amelia. Miss Amelia gets mad and over-reacts by hitting the girl. Gloria vows she will get the lawyers involved.
Later that day, Hazel receives news that something has happened to her father. When she returns home, her mother tells her that her father has gone to live in the country for a while because of poor health. Hazel learns that her father had a breakdown due to the sugar business failing and his gambling habits landing him into more debt. Hazel demands to see her father but her mother refuses to let her, citing that he should not be disturbed.
Hazel becomes very morose. Her friend, Gloria, reminds her that her birthday is coming up and that she should plan a party. At her birthday party, Gloria is very late to attend and when she does make her appearance, she brings a dashing young man in tow. Gloria gives Hazel a typewriter as her gift, a gift which puzzles the other girls. Gloria explains that the typewriter is so that Hazel can become independent and earn money for herself. Hazel is grateful and a little confused. Gloria tries to make Hazel and the other girls promise not to reveal that she drew a dirty picture of her teacher because it might not work in her favor at court. Hazel doesn't want to promise such a thing but the other girls do. Gloria is unsettled and vows to find a way to get Hazel to do what she wants.
One day, Gloria calls Hazel to meet with her. Unbeknownst to Hazel, they are to join the suffragettes in mourning the death of the woman who was trampled by the horse during the Epsom Derby. Hazel and the other girls are moved by the funeral procession. Later on, Gloria convinces the girls to join the suffragette movement with her and they all agree.
When Hazel returns home that day, she finds her meddling Aunt is visiting. Her mother and Aunt talk about Hazel potentially marrying upwards in society so that they can overcome their reduced circumstances. Hazel expresses the wish to marry for love and though her mother is sympathetic, her Aunt thinks she has foolish notions about marriage.
Meanwhile, Gloria decides that the girls should have their suffragette meetings at Hazel's place. Hazel doesn't like that Gloria is involving her boyfriend, Val, but she is flattered by Gloria's attention. Later on at school, Hazel sees Val visiting Miss Amelia. Miss Amelia throws an umbrella at Val which hits him in the neck. He tries to run away but not before Hazel notices that he has a photo of Gloria with bruises all over her face. Hazel puts two and two together and understands that Val was trying to extort money from the school by threatening to release the photos and ruining the school's chances of winning at court. When Hazel tells Gloria, Gloria is furious that Val's intentions towards her weren't sincere but she insists she can handle the situation.
One day, Gloria comes up with a plan that involves throwing acid on a portrait of William Shakespeare as an action for Women's rights. She arranges the scheme so that Hazel will be the one who does the deed. Gloria tells Hazel that since she isn't actually harming anyone, she won't be arrested, only reprimanded. Unfortunately, this proves untrue and Hazel is arrested. Hazel is eventually allowed to go, but she has disgraced her family. Later on, she learns that Gloria didn't even bother waiting to find out if Hazel was okay before leaving on her summer trip to Italy. Hazel is angry and confused as to why Gloria would treat her that way when she thought they were friends.
Hazel is sent to spend the summer in her grandparents' sugar plantation in the Caribbean with a chaperon who is none other than Miss Amelia. After spending a few weeks exploring the plantation, Hazel realizes that despite everything, she feels freer than she's ever felt in a while. Hazel has brought her typewriter with her and one day, she is surprised to find someone leaving her cryptic messages. The mysterious person warns Hazel of “Tommy John” but Hazel has no idea who that is. She begins communicating with the person on her typewriter. One day, Hazel meets a dark-skinned boy who has orange hair who turns out to be Tommy John.
She finds out that Tommy John is the illegitimate child of her grandfather. She learns from him about slavery and she is ashamed that her family uses slaves. She wishes she can do something about it, but the slaves laugh at her when she starts talking about how wrong slavery is. The slaves feel like she's just another white person who is trying to rid themselves of guilt for what they've done. While Hazel is out looking for Tommy John one day, a storm brews and it turns out to be a hurricane. Tommy John ends up rescuing her. Later on, Hazel finds out that her father had also fathered an illegitimate child named Abidemi. Apparently, her father never knew that he had fathered Abidemi and since Abidemi is much older than Hazel, the dalliance must have occurred long before her father met her mother. Hazel wants to tell her father about Abidemi but the older girl thinks it's better that he doesn't know. Abidemi explains that she doesn't want to ruin the marriage between Hazel's parents.
Meanwhile, Hazel finally asks Miss Amelia what is bothering her as the older woman has been acting very strange and nervous the entire time they were in the Caribbean. Miss Amelia admits that she's trying to work off the guilt from accidentally killing the young boy Val with her umbrella. Hazel is shocked.
The story ends with Hazel returning home, a different person than she was when she left. She now sees her father with different eyes but she silently forgives him, because she is simply glad that he has recovered from his illness. She now sees that the world is full of pretensions.
Best part of story, including ending:
I thought the story was quite humorous, however I felt that the story did not have a very strong over-arching theme to bind each chapter together. The last few chapters of the story featuring Hazel in the Caribbeans felt particularly out of place. I was hoping that Hazel would get some resolution in terms of what Gloria did to her however that particular betrayal of friendship was never really addressed. I think the author was trying to tackle too many social issues at once and didn't explore in a satisfactory way in her story.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Hazel finds out her new chaperon to the Caribbeans is Miss Amelia. Miss Amelia is the last person anyone would want to have with them on an adventure, as she's a high-strung, anxious, absurdly domineering character. Hazel is simply stunned that her luck was so bad.
Opinion about the main character:
I like Hazel's earnestness and hopefulness. Despite being betrayed by Gloria (finding out that Gloria set her up to be arrested) and even her own grandfather and father (finding out that they cheated in their marriage), Hazel tries to keep a positive view of the world.