After fourteen years away, Codi Noline reluctantly returns to her hometown of Grace, Arizona, to attend to her father, Homer. Homer is a practicing physician, but he seems to be losing his memory. Codi has unpleasant and incomplete memories of her life in Grace. She has always felt like an outsider in the town and has been estranged from her father. One of her memories concerns the loss of her mother when Codi was three and her sister Hallie was a baby. She seems to recall seeing a helicopter come too late to rescue her dying mother, even though she was not present at the time. Another unpleasant memory centers on Codi’s pregnancy and miscarriage while she was in high school. She has never told anyone about this incident, not even Loyd, the father of the miscarried child.
Codi has arranged to stay in her high school friend Emelina’s guesthouse instead of with her father. She has been hired to teach biology in her old high school, and she plans to be in Grace for only a year. She is concerned about Hallie, who has gone to Nicaragua to serve as an agricultural adviser in spite of reports about rebels called the Contras who are violently opposing the government there.
Codi reports for her first day of teaching and introduces the students to the skeleton in the biology lab. Later, she takes the class to the river to collect water samples so they can study the river’s organisms under their microscopes, but they discover that there is nothing alive in the water. A local copper-mining company has been trying to extract metals from the mine’s waste and has been releasing water used in the process into the river, causing it to become highly acidic. The poisoned water also affects the orchards in a nearby canyon. Codi files an affidavit about the polluted water at the courthouse because the Environmental Protection Agency has begun to investigate the mine.
In the meantime, Loyd, who is Apache but is also related to the Pueblo and the Navajo, has reconnected with Codi. He now has a job with the railroad. One day, he takes her to the ruins of a Pueblo village that is several hundred years old. He tells Codi he has changed since high school, and he apologizes for his past ill treatment of her.
Homer continues to practice medicine, but he increasingly confuses past and present. He tells Codi that he is taking medicine to slow the memory loss from his Alzheimer’s disease and that he will retire when he is no longer effective. Homer was aware that Codi was pregnant in high school, but he said nothing to her. After her miscarriage, however, when she asked for some aspirin, he gave her something for pain and for cramping. Only in his thoughts does he admit his love for his children.
Codi maintains a correspondence with Hallie, who has arrived safely in Nicaragua. Hallie is working hard and fitting into Nicaraguan society. She occasionally mentions Contra attacks in the area and is dismayed to learn that the Contras are supported by the U.S. government.
The ladies of a local social group, the Stitch and Bitch Club, ask Codi to explain the environmental damage to the river. The men of the town are considering a lawsuit against the company, but such a suit would likely take years; in the meantime, the town would die. The ladies decide to hold a fund-raiser and to publicize the pollution. They make several dozen peacock piñatas to sell in Tucson. Codi writes a town history, a...
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copy of which is attached to each piñata. The sale is a huge success. Eventually, the piñata project is covered in several magazines, as well as in a CBS news broadcast.
Codi becomes more involved with Loyd. He takes her to a cockfight to see his roosters battle. She realizes that he is very skilled with his birds but is repulsed by the roosters’ fighting to the death. Loyd decides to give up cockfighting. At Christmas, he takes Codi to meet his mother and her family at the Santa Rosalia Pueblo, where they watch the traditional kachina singing and dancing. Codi sees a picture of Loyd’s twin brother, who was killed when he was fifteen.
After the trip, Codi learns that Hallie has been kidnapped by the Contras. She writes and telephones everyone that she thinks might be able to do something but to no avail. She becomes angry in her classroom as she tries to make her students understand the general threats to the environment and the specific problems in Grace.
A folk-art expert who has seen the news coverage of the piñatas comes to talk to the Stitch and Bitch Club. He suggests that the ladies try to get the town placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This designation will protect the town from polluters and can be accomplished more quickly than a lawsuit. The money raised by selling the piñatas will be enough to pay for the necessary documentation of the town’s history.
Codi has gradually learned that, contrary to Homer’s assertion that they had no family in Grace, her mother was descended from one of the Gracela sisters who founded the town. She also discovers that Homer changed his name from “Nolina” to “Noline” to distance himself from a trashy ancestor in Grace and that he lied to his children when he told them that the family had moved to Grace from Illinois. Codi also learns the details of her mother’s death. She tells Homer that she left medical school when she lost her nerve while helping with a premature birth. She also tells him about her miscarriage and learns that he already knew about it.
At last, Codi hears that Hallie has been killed by the Contras. People in town urge Codi to stay in Grace, but she carries through on her plan to leave at the end of the school year after arranging for her father’s care. She boards an airplane to Colorado to be with Carlo, but the plane has mechanical trouble and is forced to return to the airport. This incident frightens Codi and forces her to realize that she wants to return to Grace. She goes back and holds a memorial service for Hallie, and she finally tells Loyd about the miscarriage.
Two years after her father’s death, Codi and Loyd are a couple, and she is pregnant. She decorates her father’s grave on the Day of All Souls and then walks up the canyon to the place where the medical helicopter came for her mother. She knows that her memory of seeing it was true.