It’s the summer of 1975. Eighteen-year-old Grace Barnett knows she should be preparing to leave for college in September. But a strange Memorial Day boating accident on the creek near her Virginia home--she’s the only witness to the apparent suicide--kicks off a series of events that will define her family’s future as well as her emerging view of life.
On the very day of the victim’s funeral, Grace’s older sister, Lillian, absent from the family for the past five years, suddenly reappears. Unfortunately, it is also the day Grace’s mother chooses to quietly walk out on her family, leaving Grace to act as the mediator between her prodigal sister and her badly wounded father.
As the summer wears on, Grace finds herself thinking less about college and more about how to mend the rifts in her family. She turns to her neighbor, Cal, a recently returned Vietnam vet, to help sort through her problems. After weathering her sister’s unexpected return and pregnancy, her father’s budding alcoholism, and Cal’s war-induced neurosis, Grace decides to set off to rural North Carolina with the intention of bringing her mother back home. On her return, without her mother, a rare but powerful hurricane is pummeling Back Creek, endangering Grace--and everyone, and everything, she loves.
From this stormy and event-filled summer, Grace emerges a changed young woman. She discovers that, by relating and thinking through the life stories of those around her, she can begin to understand herself more fully. And having come to realize the healing power of telling her own tale, she learns that she’s finally ready to leave the comfort of the creek--at least long enough to begin her studies at the University of Virginia.