Twelve-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt knows about hurts all too well. She lives in a home where shocking events and misery are daily occurrences. CeeCee’s mother, Camille, is lost in a psychotic fantasy world where she’s still a young beauty queen in search of the parade to fame. With a father who purposefully spends very little time at home, it falls to CeeCee to take on the exhausting role of caregiver for her mother, who has become the laughingstock of the entire town.
Then one day Camille is struck and killed by an ice cream truck. What will CeeCee do? Who will take care of her? Certainly not her father, whom she blames for allowing the situation to spin so wildly out of control. Her only friend, an elderly neighbor, is in no position to help. So where is CeeCee to go? The answer arrives when a vintage automobile roars into the driveway. The driver is Tootie Caldwell, a great-aunt from Savannah, who CeeCee’s never even heard of. Upon entering the house, Tootie instantly senses that something is terribly wrong. She volunteers to take CeeCee back to Georgia, and CeeCee’s father eagerly agrees. As unthinkable as the relinquishment of his daughter seems, it just might prove to be the greatest gift he could give her. With nothing but a few meager possessions, CeeCee climbs into her aunt’s car. As they head south, CeeCee observes:
I had no idea where we were, and to be honest, I don’t think Aunt Tootie did, either. All I knew was that I was flying through the night in a fancy car with a woman who showed up out of nowhere and offered to take me, messed-up life and all, to a place called Savannah.
The beautiful world Aunt Tootie has created in Savannah leaves CeeCee wonderstruck, as does Tootie’s coterie of eccentric friends—including Oletta, the housekeeper famous for her wise reflections on life and her gooey-sweet homemade cinnamon rolls, and Miz Thelma Rae Goodpepper, the stunning nextdoor neighbor with a taste for the exotic. A summer filled with adventure ensues, and the lessons learned from these fascinating and diverse women help CeeCee take her first timid steps toward becoming a normal little girl.
With lots of love and laughter and some good old-fashioned fun (sometimes at the expense of a local busybody and her curiously missing brassiere), CeeCee begins to heal. Just when her life opens like the promise of a brand-new day, a visit to a peach farm unleashes locked-away memories, and the truth of her mother’s final hours sends CeeCee spiraling into a crisis. But Aunt Tootie and Oletta know all about pain and unresolved grief, and with their loving guidance, CeeCee begins sorting through the events of her childhood. Little by little she discovers a few good memories of her mother hiding in the ruins. Those memories help CeeCee come to terms with her past, and finally she’s free to begin a new life where she can bloom.