A town of nine square blocks, surrounded by wheat fields along a railroad line in eastern North Dakota, makes an intense and magical world for Caroline (Line), Margaret (Marty) and Paul, the three middle children of the Lutheran pastor and his wife, the Mikkelsons. The Cold War feels very far away and post-World War II optimism reigns. Nevertheless, Mother and Dad are alarmed by the inroads of popular culture upon their high-minded Scandinavian immigrant world, and Paul’s young life is threatened with a bout of polio which calls up all their extended family’s resources.
The story is told in the successive points of view of Line, who sticks up for other kids in trouble; Marty, who wishes she were pretty instead of smart; and Paul, who revels in the natural world around him. This tale, of morality, the everyday, the recurrent, is as ancient as it is modern.