The story begins when teenager Liz storms off with her parents' car after an argument with her mother, Laura. As Laura worries about Liz's whereabouts, she laments at the lack of communication between them, and begins writing all of her thoughts in a letter. The process of pouring her feelings out onto paper calms the worried mother, and helps her share details of her own teenage years that she has yet been unable to share with Liz. Laura's own story consists of high school life during the early 1970s, in a conservative family with strict expectations, and her teenage rebellion during the era of public protests. Laura writes about her first love, her parents' disapproval, being sent away to boarding school, getting a tattoo, and the precious years in which she left her adolescence and innocence behind to become a young adult. The story describes her feelings as she deals with social peers in a high school, gets involved with an older boy, and becomes the source of gossip. The change in Laura's thinking and the physical changes in the world around her as she transitions from being a freshman to a senior are well written.
The trials of teenage years, high school life, and college days can be difficult for parents to face themselves, yet alone share their own experiences with their children. The line between sharing too many details, and keeping some things private between parents and children can sometimes be very thin. Bishop walks that line very gingerly, and it seems clear that any parent would have difficulty sharing some of the details in the story with their own children. Bishop illustrates how Laura is able to spill her heart into the letter, as she longs to see her daughter come back home, and worries for her safety.
The engaging story of Laura's American childhood with rebellion and maturity, joy and loss, keeps the reader engaged, whether you agree with Laura's choices or not, and curious about the outcome. The honest storytelling by Bishop pulls the reader into the emotion of the story from the parent's perspective as well as the teenager's. The complicated feelings between mothers and daughters, and the pain of growing up too fast is captured in a beautifully written, simple, yet difficult-to-put-down book.