When eleven-year-old Katy Sue loses her mother, Edna, to meningitis, she and her family must adjust to life without her. The rural farm in the 1940s provides a natural backdrop that is rhythmic and routine but unforgiving, even when a family member dies. The house’s haunted emptiness is filled only when Aunt Katherine, Edna’s youngest sister, comes to the family’s aid, as does Jake, an ornithologist and family friend.
Katy Sue, the youngest of the three children, struggles to define her place in the family and understand what the loss of her mother means for her now. With the guidance of her teacher, Mrs. Breton, Katy Sue begins to contemplate the shape of her family and the farm through drawing, a process that allows her to accept her father’s soon-to-be wife, farm life without her mother, and, eventually, her own role within the family.