Thirteen-year-old Corinna Burdette has just lost her mom. Sophie was a viola player, music teacher, and all-around great mom; people loved her and she didn't do anything wrong. So why, Corinna wonders, did Sophie deserve to die?
To make matters worse, the first day of eighth grade is just two weeks after the funeral. Corinna hasn't talked to her best friend Joci since Sophie died, and she's a little hurt (okay, a lot hurt) that Joci hasn't called.
On the first day of school, she arrives to see the other kids' moms dropping them off, and she just knows that she's going to be the class freak and/or pity project. Instead, though, most of the other kids pretend nothing's changed. The only person who acknowledges that Corinna's mom has died is her soccer coach, who tells the team they need to support her.
Shortly thereafter, another eighth-grade soccer player named Clare sends Corinna an instant message. She tells Corinna her own father died three years ago, and the two girls become close friends.
Other than Clare, there are exactly three bright spots in Corinna's life: the grief group started by Ms. DuBoise, the school counselor; her sewing class with a cool, artsy teacher named Ms. Carey; and her raging crush on Alex, a fellow member of the school band.
In general, though, things are pretty rough. Her dad's so wrapped up in his own grief that he can't get it together to buy Corinna the new clothes she desperately needs, her social studies teacher is a jerk, her long-awaited period refuses to start, and forget about getting boobs. But because she has Clare, Ms. Carey, Mrs. DuBoise, and her sympathetic English teacher, Miss Beatty, she manages to survive the school year.
When Alex kisses her at the school dance and her dad announces they're going to take the trip to Japan they were planning before Sophie died, things get significantly better for Corinna. She and Joci reconcile, albeit warily, which also helps. But it's when she goes to Kyoto and meets her mom's former host sister, Aiko, that Corinna finally starts to find real inner peace. Aiko teaches her the Japanese tradition of making a shrine for the dead, and it helps Corinna turn a corner.
Corinna returns to school at the start of ninth grade determined to find a life outside her grief. She'll never forget her mom, but she thinks it would be okay with Sophie if she went ahead and enjoyed herself a little. Thus begins what will hopefully be a relatively normal adolescence, complete with boobs, periods, and hopefully, more kisses from Alex.