Sisters Lyric and Summer are delighted when their father announces they'll be moving from their small Virginia town to Flint, Michigan. But shortly after they've settled in Summer begins to act strangely and only gets worse as time goes on. Lyric just wants to enjoy her new life, but the increasing worry about her sister and the need to take care of her begins to take its toll and eventually, a difficult choice must be made.
This book contains examples of:
- Bedlam House: Averted, the mental asylum Lyric and her father take Summer to is well-ordered and calm.
- Big Sister Instinct: Summer used to protect Lyric from bullies back in Glory Bottom. This is addressed during a subversion of the trope when Summer shows up to watch Lyric's audition for the school musical and gets heckled for her condition. Lyric shoves aside the loudest heckler and rushes to her sister's side.
- Break the Cutie: Lyric and Summer both go through this. Summer doesn't get better.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Even before the diagnosis Summer had always been a bit off. Lyric didn't think anything of it.
- Cool Big Sis: Summer was this to Lyric before her mental illness really kicked in.
- Death by Newbery Medal: In a sense. Summer herself doesn't die, but the girl she used to be is as good as gone.
- Downer Ending: Summer ends up sent to the mental asylum, where the doctor tells Lyric and their father that she'll never return to her old self.
- The Dutiful Daughter: Lyric
- Eye Scream: Summer ends up scratching herself in the eye during a fit of insanity, blaming it on the "wolves".
- Full-Name Basis: Anderson Biddle at the beginning of the story, due to this being how one addresses "town folks" in Glory Bottom.
- Madwoman in the Attic: The way mentally ill people were treated in Glory Bottom. Lyric fears she's letting Summer become this to her, and feels horribly guilty about it.
- Meaningful Name: Invoked by the girls' mother, who insisted her children would have no "common names".
- Missing Mom: The girls' mother died when they were young children.
- Naïve Newcomer: Lyric when the family first arrives in the big city.
- Parent with New Paramour: Claude, the girls' father, begins dating the manager of the general store. Lyric is happy for him, but Summer throws a fit.
- Promotion to Parent: Subverted, it's younger sister Lyric who ends up doing most of the cooking and housework and looking after Summer. The trope ends up being deconstructed by Lyric's increasing worries and stress and culminates in Summer becoming so violent they have no choice but to put her away.
- Took a Level in Jerkass: Summer's mental illness causes her to be grouchy and say nasty things to Lyric and Claude late in the story.
- Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Summer is beyond terrified of dogs, even calling them "wolves" and thinking they want to attack her. She's also afraid of electricity due to having been shocked twice as a child, and refuses to turn on the light switch or the family's new TV set herself.