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Opal Buloni and her preacher dad move to little ol' Naomi, Florida from little ol' Watley, Florida. Even though it's a new place, ten-year-old Opal isn't digging it. She misses her friends, her home, and her mother who left her when she was a little girl. Life is pretty rotten.
Enter Winn-Dixie, a mangy stray dog that Opal befriends as he ransacks a Winn-Dixie grocery store. The lovable mutt falls in love with Opal and the preacher, they fall in love with him, and voila! Opal's summer suddenly takes a turn for the better.
Thanks to Winn-Dixie's easygoing nature, he manages to introduce Opal to new friends in Naomi—the little old librarian, Miss Franny; the alleged witch, Gloria Dump; and the shy pet store worker, Otis. Opal spends each day swapping stories with these new friends, despite taunts from the neighborhood bully patrol.
As Opal's brain gnaws on the stories, she learns that, like Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans, what you see ain't always what you get. She also aches for the loss of her mother, wishing she could have story time with her.
Things go on like this for a while, and then Opal and Gloria Dump plan a shindig. Opal invites everyone, including the bully patrol. Everything is going swimmingly until a storm comes and poof! freaks out Winn-Dixie, who is ridiculously afraid of thunderstorms. Poof again! Winn-Dixie disappears.
Opal and her dad search and search, coming up with nada. Then, as her dad tries to convince her to give up, Opal has a mother of a meltdown. Literally. It's about her mother (you know, the whole "abandonment" thing). She and the preacher have a heart-to-heart. Opal realizes that her mom isn't coming back, but she has a father who loves her, friends who love her, potential friends to love her, and she'll be okay.
Plus, Winn-Dixie was hiding under the bed at the party the whole time. So Opal still has a mangy dog that loves her, too. But it's not just that. She can love each and every one of them in return, for as long as they are in her life. It's a happy, happy day in Opal's world. Life lessons learned; warm fuzzies felt.