Zinnia "Zinny" Taylor, a quiet yet sometimes outrageous thirteen-year-old girl, enjoys the care of her (late) aunt and uncle, Jessie and Nate, as her parents are preoccupied with her siblings. Jessie and Nate live in a home that fits snug against the Taylor home, and Zinny prefers to spend her time with her aunt and uncle. They once had a daughter, Rose, around Zinny's age who died of [whooping cough]. Because Rose caught the cough from Zinny, she has always, in some way, blamed herself for Rose's death.
Years later, Zinny accidentally rediscovers a large overgrown trail that is over two hundred years old. When her aunt unexpectedly dies, Zinny blames herself. Soon afterwards she begins to try to clear the trail. In her grief, the trail becomes an obsession, as she decides to clear and travel the entire length of it. Thinking clearing the trail is the only way to be forgiven by God, Zinny camps out on the trail to clear the trail before the end of the summer. At the same time Zinny learns to cope with her grief, her guilt, and a boy named Jake Boone, who she starts to have feelings for.
Throughout the story she must attempt to get over the death of Rose and Aunt Jessie. She also tries to find out whether Jake returns her feelings or is just using her to get to her older sister, May. Through all this Zinny finally finds something to call her very own, the trail that she cleared.
Throughout the story Creech uses flashbacks as a literary device, showing snippets of what Zinny's life was like before her aunt's death.