14-year-old Tiny Lambert is struggling to preserve dreams and ideals amidst the hard-knocks of rural Virginia. White's novel, which spans Tiny's turbulent high school years, evokes both the nostalgic charm of the late 1950s and the innocence-defying trials of female adolescence.
Tiny has never known her birth-father; he enlisted in World War 2 and left Tiny's mother (Hazel) alone and pregnant at the age of 16. In order to support the illegitimate child, Hazel married a coal-miner (Vern). Although their marriage was sadly loveless, they mated and produced three children: Luther, Beau, and Phyllis. Tiny has never felt truly welcome in Vern's house, and her self-esteem has suffered from his indifference and the shame surrounding her illegitimate birth. But as Tiny enters high school, Vern's indifference gives way to incestuous lust. Powerless and embarrassed, Tiny doesn't tell anyone about her stepfather's inappropriate advances; instead, she focuses on the exciting distractions of high school and strawberry picking.
In the spring of her sophomore year, the tension between Tiny and Vern culminates in rape. Tiny retreats into the safety of her imagination. She conjures up an imaginary friend named Willa for comfort, but the rape has diminished her confidence and deeply injured her sense of self.
The following autumn, Tiny catches the eye of a cute, football-playing boy named Jesse Compton and teen romance ensues. But the starry-eyed euphoria falters when Jesse pressures Tiny for sex and grows distant in the wake of her refusal.
Meanwhile, Tiny's half-sister Phyllis has been growing up. 11-years-old now, Phyllis suddenly becomes frightened of being left alone with Vern and Tiny is suspicious. This time, Tiny turns to her mother for help. Tiny's mother files for divorce. The act of voicing her long-buried secret finally frees Tiny to find the courage to live as well as dream. Longing to be more than a mother and wife, Tiny aspires to be a music teacher and becomes the first in her family to pursue a college education.
This report prepared by Tracie Amirante