A child of the 1960s, eleven-year-old Beth Brinkmann agonizes over the ruthlessness of “The Blob” as much as she delights in the fascination of Barbie. She lives in the lively little town of Mimosa, Mississippi, where she goes to movies, rides her bicycle, and darts about the neighborhood in the wake of the cloud-spewing mosquito spray truck. Then one summer day her next-door neighbor, Leonie Lunceford, gets a Chatty Cathy and Beth’s life is never the same.
The arrival of the doll, a gift from Leonie’s grandmother, coincides with Leonie’s mother getting sick. When Beth sees Mrs. Lunceford, she is horrified. This enthusiastic piano player and admired neighborhood mother has succumbed to multiple sclerosis which has robbed her of her beauty, speech, and agility. Beth dreads going near her but craves Leonie’s company as well as her newfound lifestyle: expensive toys, the latest fashions, generous grandparents, and an outlandish father who owns three capuchin monkeys. Leonie tells petrifying ghost stories and charms everyone with her smile. She makes good grades and receives the best Valentines, but most important of all, she’s a cheerleader, a status Beth craves more than anything.