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Bonita Byrnes comes of age during the civil rights movement in Birmingham's working class neighborhoods. Pearl, her mother, runs a boarding house. Ida, her black cook with enormous faith, becomes her confidante as Pearl goes from one bad relationship to another, leaving Bonita's father for a young Marine, just home from Korea. Their lives are complicated by what we now would call his PTSD from World War II. He drinks to excess, becomes violent at times, and moves from job to job. Lucinda, her older sister, does not like the stepfather. Bonita's father Phil marries a new wife and does very little to help with the girls though he is quick to criticize Pearl's efforts. His first wife, Priscilla, is more than willing to help Pearl and her girls. The two women bond as they care for their children together when Pearl is on hard times.