Jean Gilkyson is floundering in a trailer house in Iowa with yet another brutal boyfriend when she realizes this kind of life has got to stop, especially for the sake of her daughter, Griff. But the only place they can run to is Ishawooa, Wyoming, where Jean's loved ones are dead and her father-in-law, the only person who could take them in, wishes that she was too. For a decade, Einar Gilkyson has blamed her for the accident that took his son's life, and he has chosen to go on living himself largely because his oldest friend couldn't otherwise survive. They've been bound together like brothers since the Korean War and now face old age on a faltering ranch, their intimacy even more acute after Mitch was horribly crippled while Einar helplessly watched.
Of course, ten-year-old Griff knows none of this - only that her father is dead and her mother has bad taste in men. But once she encounters this grandfather she'd never heard about, and the black cowboy confined in the bunkhouse, with irrepressible courage and great spunk she attempts to turn grievous loss, wrath, and recrimination - to which she's naturally the most vulnerable - toward reconciliation and love.