It's June 1947 in Riverton, Alabama. Ten-year-old Graham and his pals, Blake and Todd, are fresh out of school for the summer and don't have a care in the world. Or do they? The annual slingshot battle, using chinaberries as ammo, is only a few weeks away and they need a plan. Last year their tree house was demolished by the mock orange cannon of the Ramar Renegades. Following her sister's death in February, Ruth St. John has been alone in her ante-bellum house. With Rachael gone, the old woman develops an interest in the outside world, especially the "roughnecks" she sees through her window. Gayle Freemont, a young black professor at the Negro college, wants to have a wife and children but is reluctant to get trapped in the South where he is just another "boy." The childless wife of a prominent architect, Jane Forrester is entering menopause and fears that life is passing her by. She resents her husband's selfish and domineering behavior and longs to find happiness before it's too late. Graham's father Pete is the county school superintendent. He considers himself quite progressive with respect to race relations--until the day he has to put his progressive ideas to the test. Priscilla Andrews teaches at the elementary school. Her acne-scarred face has caused some of the boys to call her Worm Face behind her back. But she maintains her professional bearing and decides that she and black people share a "skin problem." Crayton Turner pedals his Popsicle cart as fast as he can, trying to reach the construction site before the workers leave-which proves to be a fateful decision.