Open this book and enter the world of Jimmy Wingate. The time is the Great Depression. The place, the small southern enclave of Collin Hill. It is the old south where separate is a fact, but equality a myth; where the halls of justice can be as unfair to a white man as a black man; where the times have corrupted those in high places and justice has to be bought; where no one goes to grandma's for Thanksgiving because more than one generation lives under the same roof in paint bare houses that smell of tobacco and emit the soft voices of black servants; where welfare is a benevolent white man and where men do men things and women do women things. It is also a world of personal privilege for Jimmy, although as seen through his eyes, it is often a world of bullies, insensitive adults, deep disappointments and despair.. His father has prospered despite the depression and though poverty stricken and maligned as a young man, he has made the Wingates one of the foremost families of Collin Hill. Mr. Wingate, is a good man, who challenges long held traditions, but nevertheless remains a true son of the south. But Jimmy knows little of his fathers benevolence or anything else about his father, who gives little of his time or himself to his family. But as the book unfolds, he learns bit by bit his father has repeatedly extended a helping hand, to blacks and whites alike, even to those who once resented his presence in their community.
Meet among others, Jimmy's sadistic first grade teacher; the bullying Moore brothers who cause Jimmy nothing but grief, until one night they all accidentally meet and get drunk; Joyce Dollar, Jimmy's first 'hot' date; Gussie the Wingate cook, whose conversations with Jimmy lets us know the races were not always separate in the segregated south; Dancer, the legless peanut vender who has a strange relationship to the Wingate family; Monk Morton, a self styled small town blue-blood who never works and ingratiates himself to the Wingate family; Lydia Cochran, the pretty girl next door who becomes Jimmy's best older friend, whose father mysteriously disappears after gambling away his hardware business; the ebullient Earl Ramsey, man about town, who takes Jimmy for his first visit to a house of ill-repute; and the brilliant, but deformed, Olin Pritchard, Jimmy's best friend who bares his innermost secrets with Jimmy, knowledge that casts a dark shadow over Jimmy's young life. Their discussions on life and death leaves Jimmy in a philosophical quandary, questioning traditional notions about life and religion in general and the existence of God in particular.
Haunted by a keen sense of injustice in this world, Jimmy nevertheless retains a vision of hope in this story filled with harsh realism blended with dramatic poignancy. As he muddles through numerous moral dilemmas and tribulations, he ultimately comes to terms with his father's past, dark secrets about Olin, and the subtle and not so subtle snobbery some folks harbor against the Wingates, and learns life must be dealt with on its own terms.