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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 417

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Allison MacKenzie and her friend Selena Cross are eighth graders in Peyton Place, an isolated New England town that thrives on gossip and scandal. Allison is the illegitimate daughter of Constance MacKenzie and a married man from New York, with whom Constance had an affair. Selena’s family lives on the wrong side of the tracks, and her stepfather Lucas makes sexual advances toward her. She develops a romantic relationship with classmate Ted Carter, while Allison experiences her first kiss with Rodney Harrington and embarks on a friendship with Kathy Ellsworth, a newcomer to Peyton Place. The school principal (another newcomer named Tomas Makris) is attracted to Constance.

Two years later, Constance and Tom are dating. Allison writes stories for the local newspaper, and her friendship with Norman Page becomes romantic. Selena is pregnant and convinces Dr. Swain to terminate the pregnancy because Lucas is the father. Rodney gets Betty pregnant; his father gives her money to have an abortion as well, but she leaves town, presumably still pregnant. Allison’s innocence is also shattered. Nellie Cross, who works as the MacKenzies’ housekeeper, is guilt-ridden after she discovers that her husband impregnated her daughter and commits suicide. The same day, Constance, consumed with fear that Allison will fall prey to the same fate that she herself has, tells Allison the truth about her father. Devastated, Allison runs to her room, only to discover Nellie’s body hanging in her closet. Yet another tragedy occurs when Allison’s friend Kathy loses her arm in a carnival ride accident.

The advent of World War II transforms the town of Peyton Place. Allison leaves to pursue her writing career in New York, while Constance and Tom get married. Rodney, whose father kept him out of the war, is killed in a car accident, while Norman returns as a war hero. Selena and her younger brother Joey live comfortably, but Lucas returns to menace them. Selena kills him and buries his body in Joey’s sheep pen. Eventually, she confesses and goes on trial for murder. Allison, whose heart has been broken by her first love affair, returns to Peyton Place in time for the sensational trial, which ends with Dr. Swain’s revelation that Selena had once been pregnant with Lucas’s child. The jury acquits her, while Allison and her mother reconcile. The novel closes with Allison returning to Road’s End, one of her old haunts, and musing about the town that she once feared but still loves.