How would you feel if you were sent to a podunk town in the middle of nowhere against your will?
Mary Alice Dowdel is a city girl, and she feels awfully sorry for herself when she arrives in Grandma Dowdel's town. In addition to being tiny and boring, the town is also in serious decline:
The recession of thirty-seven had hit Grandma's town harder than it had hit Chicago. Grass grew in the main street. Only a face or two showed in the window of The Coffee Pot Cafe. Moore's Store was hurting for trade. Weidenbach's bank looked to be just barely in business. (1.14)
Things are pretty grim during this phase of the recession, and the book doesn't shy away from depicting how shops are going out of business and people are going hungry. But despite how bleak things are at the beginning, it's clear that the people in this small town care about each other—and Mary Alice definitely comes to find that charming and refreshing. In fact, in under a year, she feels like she knows this place better than Chicago, where she's lived her entire life:
I'd made my way to school every morning lost in thought. By now I knew who lived in every house along the way. I knew this town as I'd never known Chicago. (7.5)
There are definitely benefits to a close-knit small town, and Mary Alice ends up appreciating them all after spending a year with her Grandma Dowdel.