Forty-year-old widow Molly Culpepper believes her hometown is a place of harmony and white picket fences--until a colleague chalks a racial slur on the blackboard during Barack Obama's presidential campaign. In the uproar that follows, a citizens' group files a lawsuit alleging discrimination against the high school where Molly teaches. To address the lawsuit's concerns over academic weaknesses, Molly joins forces with a black minister to plan curriculum improvements and a fundraiser for equipment upgrades. The town's racial divide becomes personal when Molly clashes with a new black student, J.D. Marshall. His rough language and lack of control disrupt Molly's classroom, but she is determined to find a way to reach him. Gradually, both Molly and J.D. discover their families have a tangled history involving violence, charity, and misunderstanding.
The serious themes of the novel are lightened by Molly's witty voice and the dark humor that stems from the effects of the Great Recession. In addition to problems at work, Molly struggles to raise two boys on her own, to keep her alcoholic father out of trouble, and to find time for romance.