Callie and Corbit Kinser eagerly climb “The Hill” overlooking their farmhouse to celebrate the first day of summer vacation in their Tennessee mountain community. Beyond the hill lies the meandering creek where they and their friends splash from a rope swing, fish and experience the magic of youth. Their younger sister, Maggie, sometimes tags along but always carrying her treasured banjo. Maggie has a curious talent for getting out of chores, along with her real talent as a musician. Callie resents both, and has no idea how dangerous that simmering resentment will become until it boils over into a life-changing calamity.
This summer, the Kinsers also meet Willow Branch, an angelic-looking girl whose face belies her past, and later her brother Thorny, a mysterious loner who tries to protect Willow from their vicious father. Callie and Corbit's friendliness draws Willow in at last, and she sees for the first time a loving, caring family-the polar opposite of her own bleak and bitter home life. She is tormented by her father, who forces her to submit to his drunken perversions, giving her a new dress each time and telling her to be grateful. His twisted mind wants her pretty and desirable, while beating and starving the rest of the family. Degraded and numbed, Willow carries another secret, too, one so abominable that it will drive her to do the unthinkable.
The summer of 1945 would transform the lives of Callie, Corbit, Maggie, Willow, and Thorny, as they experience life in a new and profound way. A murder at a revival meeting, a well-hidden moonshine still, a near-drowning, Corbit's brilliant idea that would save the crops from a devastating drought, and the climactic unfolding of Willow's and Thorny's stories, make this a captivating read, centered in the warm authenticity of its mountain setting.