A novel of a young teacher in the depression-era prairies, Roy tells the stories of children from the desperately poor families of rural Manitoba. The stories are told by the protagonist, a young, unnamed teacher, who teaches at an isolated village school. Roy presents children heavily laden with the burdens of poverty, adult concerns, and adult responsibilities. It quickly becomes clear what a significant role a caring young teacher plays in the lives of these children. In many cases she is the only adult who has the luxury to treat her pupils as children. The protagonist retains youthful enthusiasm in the most trying of circumstances, until she is faced with a new kind of trial: a budding romance with a troubled teenage student. Mederic, the son of a distant father and an absent mother, is desperately in need of attention, and his young teacher is desperately in need of companionship. When she tries to reach Mederic's mind a clear affection develops between them, and this budding relationship offers few good solutions. Roy's novel is rife with sadness, but also with a sense of persistence. The desperate poverty of the 1930s immigrant prairie communities is brought into stark relief by Roy's prose; written in a lyrical style, she paints a dramatic picture.