Mattie is 16, she's plain, smart, hardworking and a reader. Her mom died of cancer awhile back, Pa is gone for long stretches, working the land, leaving Mattie with a gaggle of siblings to care for. She wants to finish her schooling but she's poor and in 1906 upstate New York, high school and college aren't priorities for girls. She's inspired by her teacher, a poet and feminist, who helps her land an acceptance letter and full scholarship to Barnard. But Pa forbids it, she made a promise to her dying mother to never leave, and this Plain Jane is getting some unfathomable attention from the town hottie. What's a girl to do?