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Our narrator doesn't waste time kicking this story off. She's full of vim and vigor, and according to her Gramps, she's "a country girl at heart" (1.1).
We learn that she is a thirteen-year-old from Bybanks, Kentucky. Bybanks is on the Ohio River, and it sounds pretty awesome.
About a year ago, her dad "plucked" her from Bybanks and took her 300 miles north to the town of Euclid, Ohio. She had to leave behind some of her favorite things in Bybanks, and she's not too happy about it. Our narrator takes us back to the moment she first arrived in Euclid. It is not a happy memory, but here goes…
Compared to Bybanks, Euclid is totally gray and boring. She and her dad arrive on a street where the houses are all jammed together like "birdhouses," and the sidewalk and the road look grey. Worst of all, there are no trees.
They stop in front of one of these "birdhouses," and a lady named Margaret with big red hair comes out.
Our narrator looks at the second story window of a house next door, and she sees a little girl with her faced pressed against the window. She didn't know it then, but that little girl is Phoebe Winterbottom, who would soon become her closest friend.
We jump back in time again, and she and tells us that not too long ago she was "locked" in a car with her grandparents for six days. During this trip, she told her grandparents Phoebe's story.
When she finished telling her grandparents Phoebe's story, our narrator realized that Phoebe's story and her own story were connected.
Our narrator says that Phoebe's story "was like the plaster wall in our old house in Bybanks, Kentucky" (1.12). Okay, so what's this all about?
She explains that one April morning her mother went away, and her father chipped at a plaster wall in their house. When they got news that her mother was not coming back home to Bybanks, her dad chipped harder and harder at that wall. Eventually, he discovered a fireplace hidden beneath the plaster.
And there you have it: "The reason Phoebe's story reminds me of that plaster wall and the hidden fireplace is that beneath Phoebe's story was another one. Mine" (1.15).
It's okay if you're a little lost at this point: it will all come together soon enough.