In 1997, shortly after Katherine Spencer’s death, Joan O’Connor travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her estranged mother’s house. Hidden amongst her mother’s things, Joan finds a wooden box containing trinkets and sealed letters to a person identified only by a first initial. Through the letters, Joan learns that her aloof and unyielding mother was anything but – that she had loved deeply and lost that love to circumstances beyond her control.
The story shifts to 1930s Chicago where Katherine has left her small town in Kansas and the marriage proposal of a local boy, to live on her own and work at the glove counter at Sears & Roebuck. It’s here that she meets Annie Bennett, a bold, outspoken feminist who challenges Katherine’s idea of who she thinks she is, in addition to what she thinks she wants.
The decades-long, often tumultuous relationship between Katherine and Annie, Katherine’s subsequent marriage to a man she grows to hate, and the fractious relationship between mother and daughter ultimately shows that despite their differences, they’re more alike than Joan had ever realized.