Exposition (Initial Situation)
The book opens with our young heroine in quite a state—she's being sent to live with her grandmother in a podunk town, and she doesn't want to because she's a self-described city girl from Chicago. Nonetheless, Mary Alice has to go because her parents are short on cash, and they can't afford to rent a place big enough in Chicago for her to stay on with them.
Rising Action (Conflict, Complication)
Small Town Life
Mary Alice's first day at school leaves her pretty discouraged. She's outright bullied by one girl, and in the weeks to come the rest of the girls—except for one—ostracize her.
Still, month by month, she starts to find her place in her grandmother's town. Between all the holiday festivities, Grandma's crazy schemes, and the arrival of a cute new boy, Mary Alice settles in and maybe even comes to like small-town life a little.
Climax (Crisis, Turning Point)
The Invincible Mrs. Dowdel
But as Mary Alice grows closer to her grandmother, she also notices that Grandma Dowdel is not so invincible as she seems. She may be handy with a shotgun, but she's an old woman…and Mary Alice starts to worry about her.
Everything comes to a head when a tornado blows through town, and Mary Alice rushes home from school to make sure that her grandmother is safe. This is a turning point for Mary Alice. Up till now, she's worried here and there about Grandma Dowdel, but ultimately her grandmother has been her protector. This is the first time we see Mary Alice put her own safety on the line in order to ensure her grandmother is okay.
Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?
Grandma Dowdel is safe and sound, but Mary Alice faces yet another conundrum when the school year ends and her dad finds a full-time job.
This is good news for her family, but it means that she can return to Chicago—and Mary Alice is worried about leaving her grandmother alone. She offers to stay on, but Grandma Dowdel is firm and makes the decision for her; she tells Mary Alice to go back to Chicago, and that she can visit whenever she wants.
Happily Ever After
When Mary Alice heads back to Chicago, we don't know what's in store for her or how Grandma will fare in her absence. Thank goodness for the denouement! The book ends with a happy event that takes place at Grandma Dowdel's house several years later—Mary Alice and Royce McNabb are getting married.
It's the middle of WWII, Royce is home on leave, and no family members are able to make it to the wedding…except for Grandma Dowdel (of course). She's the one who gives Mary Alice away and sends her off into her very own happily ever after. Plot resolved.