Mattie Gokey carries many responsibilities on her shoulders. She promised her mother (now dead) that she would care for her father and younger siblings, who live in poverty on the family’s run-down farm. She has a budding romance with Royal Loomis, but is not sure whether “love” enters into the equation.
It’s 1906, and women don’t have a lot of options. Mattie has taken a summer job as a serving girl at a fancy hotel in the Adirondacks, and as she works relentlessly to save money, she comes closer and closer to a choice she must make: whether to marry Royal and stay at her family farm, or use her hard-earned money to attend Barnard College.
Amidst her troubles and decisions, Mattie becomes involved in a secondary – and deadly – plot. A young woman staying at the hotel presents Mattie with a sheaf of love letters and asks Mattie to burn them. But before Mattie can, the woman is found drowned, and her lover disappears. Custodian of the letters, Mattie begins to read, hoping to find escape from her own difficulties as well as answers to the mystery.