*I encourage you to use this answer as a guide to keep you on track with your reading. If you have not read the book, I highly encourage you to do so. It is one of the best books I've read in the last 5 years and no study guide could substitute for the style and language of the author himself.*
First of all, it is important to distinguish the characters whose stories are told in the book (3 stories).
- Cal Stephanides (the hermaphrodite)
- Milton and Tessie (Cal's parents)
- Lefty and Desdemona (Cal's grandparents)
Book one introduces Cal in the present as a full grown man. In order to understand Cal's life journey, background information is necessary. Therefore, most of this part of the book chronicles the journey of Lefty and Desdemona (brother and sister) from a war torn Greece to America.
Book two is all about Lefty and Desdemona in Detroit, living with their cousin Lina and her husband Jimmy. Jimmy is a bootlegger who employs Lefty, who is mostly ignorant of the illegal activity taking place. Desdemona and Lina get pregnant at about the same time and give birth to Cal's parents, Tessie and Milton.
Tessie and Milton grow up. Milton applies and is accepted into the Naval Academy. He then marries Tessie. Upon his return to Detroit (from Annapolis) he takes over his father Lefty's bar (which is failing) and turns it into a successful diner. Lefty begins to gamble and loses all his money. As a result, he moves in with Milton and Tessie, who have a son, Chapter Eleven, and a daughter (at that time), Cal.
Book three chronicles most of Cal's childhood as a girl and her struggles with sexuality and identity, especially as she hits puberty. During this time she falls in love with her best friend, whom she calls the "Object of Desire."
Book four begins when Cal fails to hit puberty (as a woman) and her parents take her to a specialist. Here, though she lies on many of the interview questions, it is discovered that she has the sexual organs to make her a boy. Because of her lies, the doctor tells her parents that she is a "girl with too much boy hormones" and plans to use hormone therapy to make her as much of a girl as possible. Cal reads her charts privately, realizes the reason she's been so confused her whole life is really because she's a boy, and runs away.
Cal heads West in an attempt to discover hisidentity. During this time he finds and lives with a group of people living in a park, is mugged and kidnapped, and later works for a short time as a "freak" in a sex club. Eventually Cal calls home and finds out his father has been killed. He returns home to face his family as a boy.