At the beginning of summer, Momma had abandoned them.  So Dicey Tillerman, 13, her brothers James, 10, and Sammy, 6, and sister Maybeth, 9, made a long and difficult journey to find a home with a grandmother, Ab Tillerman, they didn’t even know existed.  Now that they’re living with Gram, their troubles will be over, Dicey hopes.

            Dicey had brought her family through the hard days – now she wants to be just a little selfish:  refinish the old sailboat in Gram’s barn, earn a little spending money, make a new friend, get to know the guitar-playing boy she meets in school, and adjust to Gram and her new life in the Chesapeake Bay country that had once been her Momma’s childhood home.

            Yet even with the building of new ties and a new life, old problems and sorrows don’t go away by themselves.  None of the Tillermans, and especially not Dicey, can forget about Momma.  Nor can Dicey easily relinquish her need to watch and worry over her younger siblings.  Though she feels a growing bond with feisty, seemingly eccentric, Gram, who talks of reaching out … and of letting go, it takes a crisis to help Dicey understand what such things might mean.  A cousin shows up who wants custody of the children, against their wishes and the wishes of their grandmother.  Unfortunately, the Tillermans don’t have the money to properly defend their rights in court.   The system weights against them.

            Then comes the dreaded news of the children’s mother – she’s been traced to an asylum in Boston, where she lies in a catatonic state, not communicating, unknowing.  

            Together Dicey and Gram make the journey to see her – for one a beloved mother, for the other an exiled daughter.  It’s  a journey that must come to grips with the past and at the same time try to build hope for the future.