The book is divided into four sections: Habit, Rose, Son, and Sissy
In 1906, George Clatterbuck witnesses a miracle as his daughter, June Clatterbuck, is healed by water from a spring in the back pasture of their property. The healing qualities of the spring attract visitors from afar including the Nelsons, wealthy horse breeders from Lexington. Upon discovering that there wasn’t a hotel in Habit, Lewis Nelson commissioned a hotel to be built to create space for all the visitors seeking out aid from the spring. The hotel was opened in 1920 as Hotel Louisa in honor of Lewis’ wife, Louisa Nelson. When the spring dried up and the stock market crashed in 1929, the hotel was gifted to the Catholic church and renamed Saint Elizabeth’s. It was shortly used as a home for nuns to live out their days. Later, the nuns were moved to Ohio and the Hotel Louisa remained empty for some time before it became a Roman Catholic home for unwed mothers.
It is 1968, and Rose Clinton finds herself in a bind as she is pregnant with her husband's child, and she has no desire to keep the baby. Unhappy with her life, she seeks out Father O'Donnell and learns of a place called Saint Elizabeth's in Habit, Kentucky. It is a home for unwed mothers, but Rose begs Father O'Donnell to assist her. She sets out from California on Highway 40, making several stops along the way. Rose arrives at Saint Elizabeth's and finds herself living with a girl named Angela. Thinking about her mother and husband often, Rose tries to fit in and quickly learns the routine of Saint Elizabeth's, taking a job in the kitchen with Sister Evangeline. Sister Evangeline grows fond of Rose, keeping her in the kitchen frequently to assist her. She often attempts to tell Rose what she knows about her future, but Rose tends to brush her insight to the side. As the months pass, Rose starts to grow to the idea of being a mother, especially as Beatrice asks for her assistance in delivering her twin boys. After an exhausting night delivering Beatrice's babies, Rose wanders off outside in the snow. Son finds her, and carries her back to his home. Rose finally admits that she wants to keep her daughter and Son suggests that she marry him and live at Saint Elizabeth's with him. She agrees quickly and begs to be married that night. Following their ceremony, Rose and Son share their news with Angela and Sister Evangeline, while attempting to build a foundation for their marriage with little knowledge of each other.
Now married and adjusting to life as a new father, Son thinks a lot about his life prior to Rose and Sissy. He reflects on his time as a teenager, starting with his roller coaster romance with a girl named Cecelia, enlisting in the army, and having to leave abruptly. Throughout his story, he reflects on memories of Sissy growing up, developing her personality and the transformation of her relationship with both himself and Rose.
Now fifteen years old, Sissy is adapted to the lack of emotional connection with her mother, Rose. Although she has grown up without a strong bond with Rose, she doesn't keep herself from trying to have a relationship with her mother, as she asks Rose to teach her how to drive. Once she knows the key to her mother's heart, nothing will keep Sissy from rekindling the friendship and love she had for her mother.