Eleven-year-old Hattie Owen lives with her mother and father in Millerton, a town in the northeastern United States, during the 1960s. Her parents run a boarding house where several boarders have been living for years, and Hattie has become friends with all of them—the elderly Miss Hagerty who loves to sew and knit; Mr. Penny, a retired watchmaker who loves clocks; and the newer resident, Angel Valentine, a beautiful young woman who works at the bank. Hattie is very comfortable in her life and enjoys the familiarity of her family and the friends who live in the house with her.
Nana and Papa are Hattie’s grandparents on her mother’s side; they are very wealthy and also live in Millerton. Nana and Papa are rigid in their beliefs about social propriety; any time Hattie and her parents visit, they must be well dressed and follow all of the proper social customs that Nana expects. Nana did not approve of Hattie’s mother marriage to Hattie’s father; in fact, they were quite upset at the choice because Hattie’s dad is just a painter. However, they reconcile themselves to it and everyone is on amicable terms at the beginning of the novel.
The school year is just ending, and Hattie says goodbye to her only friend who is her actual age, Betsy McGruder; Betsy leaves for family vacation at her family’s summer house. Hattie does not mind staying behind; she loves Millerton, the people in the shops, and spending time with her parents. She does not want any of it to change and is looking forward to spending the summer taking walks through the town and painting with her father. Soon, however, her summer is changed drastically. Her mother informs her that she has an uncle who is mentally challenged. His name is Adam and has been living in a special home her entire life; he is Hattie’s mother’s younger brother and is only twenty-two years of age. The special home that had been taking care of Adam is closing, so Adam is coming home to live with Nana and Papa again until they can find another place for him.
Adam arrives and is a very interesting, unique character. He swings between feeling ecstatically happy, intensely angry, and incredibly sad—all very quickly and without warning. Also, he is overwhelmed by a lot of noise and sensory stimulation, which causes him to have panic attacks. Despite his different personality, Hattie immediately connects with him and finds his unfiltered joy refreshing and entertaining. They start spending a lot of time together and...
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