This takes place about a generation ago, with nine-year-old Margie's respectable and loving black family living quietly in Nutbrush, a small town on the Mississippi River. But Margie's tranquil universe is rudely disturbed when Mama insists on taking in bratty, half-white, four-year-old Ethel while Ethel's trashy white mother makes an overnight trip. The overnight visit is extended; and though Ethel is soon tamed by Margie's charitable schoolteacher mother, it is Margie whose bed gets ""peed"" on, whose precious shell collection is broken, and whose place in her parents' affection seems threatened by the intruder. By the time Ethel is permanently established in their home Margie has learned that the child is her cousin and is helped in adjusting to the changes by her understanding father. Readers, for their part, have come to sympathize with Margie and to feel the ambience of her narrow, gossipy community.