The year is 1934. With the country in the stranglehold of drought and economic depression, Ella Barron runs her Texas boardinghouse with an efficiency that ensures her life will be kept in balance. She also cares for her ten-year-old son, Solly, a sweet but challenging child whose misunderstood behavior finds Ella on the receiving end of pity, derision, and suspicion. David Rainwater arrives at the house looking for lodging but Ella senses that admitting him will bring about unsettling changes. However, times are hard, so Mr. Rainwater moves in and impacts her life in ways Ella could never have foreseen.
The changes are echoed by the turbulence beyond the house walls. Friends and neighbors now face financial ruin and in an effort to save their families from homelessness and hunger, are forced to make heart-rending choices. The climate of desperation creates a fertile atmosphere for racial tensions and social unrest. Conrad Ellis—privileged and spoiled and Ella’s nemesis since childhood—steps into this arena of teeming hostility to exact his vengeance and demonstrate the extent of his blind hatred and unlimited cruelty. He and his gang of hoodlums come to embody the rule of law, and no one in Gilead, Texas, is safe. Particularly Ella and Solly.
In this hotbed of uncertainty, Ella finds Mr. Rainwater a calming presence. Slowly, she begins to rely on his soft-spokenness, his restraint, and the steely resolve of his convictions. And on the hottest, most violent night of the summer, those principles will be put to the ultimate test.