When LeLe Arnold, an Indiana high school student, is invited to spend the summer with her cousin Baby Gwen in Mississippi, she is thrilled. She was recently passed over in a cheerleader election because, she believes, she was regarded as somewhat overweight. She sees Mississippi as a place where she can start over and become a different and more popular person. Immediately on arrival she begins to work on her reputation by telling her cousin that she did make the cheerleading squad and the football team saw her off at the train station.
LeLe and Baby Gwen spend their days sunbathing, playing bridge, and entertaining the boys who call on them. LeLe is attracted to one in particular, Fielding Reid, and about the time that she is beginning to believe her own publicity, that she is special, Fielding finally invites her to go out with him alone. LeLe can hardly contain her excitement but is sorely disappointed when Fielding tells her he has asked her out to talk to her about her weight, which he says is keeping her from being as beautiful as she might be. To save face, LeLe again resorts to lying, telling him that she has a thyroid condition.
When Fielding announces that it is time for his annual swim across the lake, LeLe offers to swim with him against Baby Gwen’s protest that it is not a feat suitable for girls. The water empowers LeLe: She feels thin, beautiful, even perfect, and she accomplishes the swim with no trouble, her reputation as “the wildest girl in Mississippi” solidified.
When she returns home with Baby Gwen, LeLe learns that her parents are coming for her. Soon she is back in Indiana, telling a friend there that she was practically engaged to a rich plantation owner’s son, while “trying to remember how the water turned into diamonds in her hands.”