People say that losing a child is the worst tragedy anyone can suffer. Emerson LaMonica would not agree. After her father’s death, 8-year-old Emerson cannot imagine anything hurting more. She begins to isolate herself from everyone in her life, not letting anyone get too close, shutting people out to avoid getting so hurt again; the only coping skill her young psyche can do to heal. However, it will not mend her. The isolation only causes her more harm.
Throughout all of this, her beloved grandfather, her Empa, refuses to let her shut him out, drawing her in with his love and faith, and she cannot help but to allow him to remain dear to her heart. Her two best friends, Melanie and Robert, stay in her life as they grow up, but Emerson keeps them at an arm’s length, drawing her strength from her love of academics, her grandfather, and his farm in Vermont. While living in New York City after college, the villain of the book rapes Emerson, ripping her virginity away and propelling her off her shaky foundation. Ashamed at what has happened and alone behind the false security of her emotional walls, she suffers in silence and solitude for three years. In the midst of it all, she loses her beloved Empa, causing her to hit rock bottom. Working as an archivist, she must research the origin of an old painting. An insurmountable task at this point in her life, Emerson flees the city and returns to her small town in Vermont. The rape forces her to realize that her coping strategies are useless. Such responses will kill her if she continues to allow them to shut everyone out of her life. The painting becomes the vehicle that carries her back to Vermont. Her soul mate Robert, the town, and the farm all play a role in bringing Emerson home. The walls begin to crumble to reveal the real Emerson and the happy life meant for her as she learns the importance of letting people into her life and heart.