Book 1, Chapters 1 - 3
In "A Long Day and A Long Night" we see lots of brownstone homes in the late 1930s in Brooklyn, NY. Although once owned by the white upper class of New York (in the 20s) they are now home to many migrants from the West Indies. As readers, we are introduced to the Boyces. They rent one of these brownstone homes, sharing it with others in order to save money.
Selina is the main character. She doesn't remember the West Indies at all and wishes to be one of the rich whites. We are introduced to Selina's dealings with her family as she comes of age (such as the harshness of her mother, Silla, learning about period cramps from her sister, Ina, and irresponsibility from her father, Deighton).
Eventually, Suggie has a romantic encounter in remembrance of Barbados. Other boarders, such as Maritze, are disgusted while listening within earshot of their passionate adventure. As a result, Maritze wants to move to Long Island, but Mary just laughs because Maritze is over 30 and needs a husband of her own. Meanwhile, on Fulton Street (a very unlikely place), Deighton gets his first possible career opportunity to do some accounting. As usual, it amounts to nothing.
In "Pastorale," the reader returns to Selina's plight. Her family is trying to decide whether to sell their land in the West Indies. There is much fighting in the house, so Selina meanders around to Suggie's room and takes a sip of rum. Selina struggles on her journey of growth:
Perhaps everyone had his tomb: the mother hunched over the table all night might be locked in hers, her father, stretched on the cot, might have been sealed his his, just as she was shut within the lonely region of herself.
In the meantime, Selina is allowed to go to the park with Beryl. This makes Selina feel more like a woman than ever before.
Book 3, Chapters 1 - 10
In "The War," Selina and her family listen to the radio and hear about the beginnings of World War II. Selina hears her parents being happy their children do not have to fight. Silla stops cleaning houses and begins working in a factory for the defense. Meanwhile, Selina is truly growing up and becoming a woman.
There is a large discussion between Silla and her friends one day at home about the hypocrisies of Mass.
Think of your Catholic sinning, his exquisite guilt on his way to the confessional—only to rush from there to sin again and suffer.
As a result, Florrie starts to prod Silla to practice the island religion of Barbados by telling scary stories of curses and talismans.
The charismatic Deighton finally convinces Silla to go and fetch the money by himself. Excited about their relationship, Deighton leaves, but doesn't return for a long while. Silla has sold the land in the West Indies behind Deighton's back. Selina muses on the happenings between Deighton and Silla. Selina can't imagine her mother being young enough to dance.
Deighton spends all the money from the land in one big shopping spree, and Silla is furious. After Deighton is hospitalized due to a work injury, he talks of nothing but a cult headed by "Father Peace."
Selina really wants to see Harlem, so Deighton takes her one Sunday. They go to a great party and sit at a long table with Father Peace at the end. Selina is surprised at his fragility and smallness. Silla is disgusted about where Deighton took their daughter. She is so mad, in fact, that she calls the police to have him deported; however, Deighton jumps overboard and drowns instead.
Book 4, Chapters 1-11
The chapter entitled "Selina" shows Selina grieving for her dead father. Selina, now a senior in high school, has boys calling her (and adults threatening to kick her out of the brownstone house if she gets pregnant). Selina doesn't like socialization, but she eventually does go to Beryl's party. Meanwhile, it's Silla vs. Suggie. Silla accuses Suggie of prostitution. After Suggie is evicted, Selina admits that Suggie was one of her few friends.
Selina starts college, but the days seem to whiz by. Eventually Selina starts seeing Clive (who wants to be an artist), but she claims they are just friends. Clive's mother won't support his dreams, so Selina plans to win a scholarship to pay for them to run way together. Clive, however, isn't too interested, and Selina eventually realizes this and ends the relationship.
Now Selina is grieving over Clive, but doesn't really tell anyone why she is crying. Meanwhile, Ina and Edgar announce their engagement and Selina wonders if marriage is all she has in her future.
At the end of book 4, Selina vows to go back to Barbados to truly experience the West Indies for herself and complete her heritage. Selina, a true woman now, decides to live by both her wits and her ability to dance.