Lily Owens, 14, has grown up believing that she murdered her mother. Her abusive father, T-Ray, does nothing to assuage her guilt, despite the fact that the death occurred during a fight he had with Lily’s mother. Rosaleen, the Owens’ African American housekeeper—and Lily’s stand-in-mother—can neither confirm nor deny the child’s belief. Lily does her best to behave like a “normal” child but seems incapable of making friends; besides Rosaleen, books and daydreams about the day she will be reunited with her mother in death are her only comfort.
It is the summer of 1964 and the Johnson Administration has just granted African Americans the right to register to
vote. Rosaleen heads to town with Lily in tow and on the way they encounter three ferocious racists who hurl jibes at
them. Giddy with the prospect of one day being able to vote, Rosaleen responds by performing a gesture that gets her
beaten up and thrown in jail.