Missy Greer has grown up in Kentucky. She does not consider herself smart, but she knows that she needs to get out of Kentucky before she gets pregnant and suffers a life of poverty. She buys a 1955 Volkswagen and takes off for the West. She also takes a new name, Taylor.
As Taylor drives west, her car breaks down in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. While the car is being fixed, she goes to a bar to get something to eat. As she is leaving the bar, a Cherokee woman places a baby girl in her car and, before leaving, tells Taylor to take the girl. At a motel that evening, Taylor sees that the girl is badly bruised over most of her body. Taylor names her Turtle.
Taylor leaves the motel and begins her drive, headed toward Tucson, Arizona. She stops in a hail storm and finds she has two flat tires. Now at Jesus Is Lord Used Tires in Tucson, she meets the owner, Mattie, who is kind to her and Turtle. A priest shows up while Mattie is getting juice for Turtle. He leaves with what looks like American Indians in his car. Mattie shows Taylor the purple bean plants behind the tire shop.
Lou Ann Ruiz is another woman from Kentucky. She lives in Tucson and is married to Angel, who leaves her when Lou Ann is pregnant. Lou Ann soon gives birth to a boy and names him Dwayne Ray.
Answering a classified ad in the local newspaper, Taylor meets and then moves in with Lou Ann, who lives across the street from Jesus Is Lord Used Tires. The two of them become friends immediately. Taylor gets a job working with Mattie. She is learning a lot but fears exploding tires. She has been haunted by tires ever since, as a child, she saw a friend’s father get blown to the top of a sign by an overfilled tractor tire. Mattie helps Taylor get over her fears.
Taylor, Lou Ann, Mattie, the kids, and a couple from Guatemala (Estevan, an English teacher, and his wife, Esperanza) go on a picnic by a creek. Esperanza seems to be thinking about some child she once knew when she first sees Turtle. As the picnickers start driving back, Estevan stops quickly for several quail crossing the road. As Taylor slams on the breaks as well, she hears a voice from the back seat. The voice belongs to Turtle, who is laughing. Taylor hears Turtle’s voice for the first time. Later, as they are out in Mattie’s garden, Turtle says her first word: bean.
Two elderly neighbors, Edna and Virgie Mae, visit Mattie’s house and bring a portable television so they can all see Mattie being interviewed. It takes a while to get the television to work, so they see only the last part of the interview. Mattie is talking about illegal immigrants, although she does not use that term. Estevan and Esperanza are at Mattie’s house, too. They introduce themselves to Edna and Virgie Mae as Steven and Hope. The older women are upset about illegal immigrants in the United States. Taylor learns that Mattie has Central American refugees living in a room above the tire shop.
Estevan comes over one night and tells Taylor that Esperanza has tried to kill herself. Mattie has taken her to a hospital that does not demand identity papers. He tells Taylor that Turtle reminds...
(The entire section is 1296 words.)