Grace McAllister has just become engaged to her boyfriend Victor, and they're planning to tell his children during their weekend visit, when a normal Friday afternoon is disrupted by the shocking news that the children's mother, Victor's ex-wife Kelli, has suddenly died. The couple are now full-time parents to two grieving children, with all the new stresses this introduces, for Victor, for Grace, and for the two children, thirteen-year-old Ava and ten-year-old Ben.
Grace raised her much younger brother, and has never wanted children of her own. She's not sure she has the ability to be the parent the children need. Victor feels guilty for not having been as involved in his children's lives as he now thinks he should have been, and fears he is more like his father, who left when he was five, than he cares to believe. The cause of Kelli's death isn't altogether clear--she died of heart failure, but the underlying cause may have been an overdose of her anti-anxiety medication.
We learn that Ava, at thirteen, had been taking on enormous responsibility for taking care of her brother, and helping her mother do basic things like paying the bills. She's been bearing the burden of being the emotionally strong one in her relationship with her mother. Now she's confused and guilty, afraid that her mother died because she didn't tell her father or a teacher what was going on.
And then, gradually, Ava and Grace separately start to discover that Kelli's past is a mystery. There are no pictures of her after the age of fourteen until she's an adult. She talked a lot about being a cheerleader in high school, and captain of the squad, but the only yearbook she has is her freshman year of high school.
There's a big, gaping hole in her history. Is that where the explanation for her death lies?
We get the story in alternating chapters, Grace's viewpoint, Ava's viewpoint, and, in flashbacks, Kelli's viewpoint. It's a beautifully braided story, revealing events from multiple viewpoints, and building up a fuller and fuller understanding of Grace, Ava, and Kelli, and how all their lives have been affected by the decisions of adults around them as they grew, and their own choices flowing from those experiences.