On the morning of her hundredth-year birthday, Amelia Moorland believes it will be her last, a beloved childhood friend appearing in her dreams. Years later, the tragic incident that Amelia claims ended Samís life has never been resolved. In the early 1900s, Amelia jumped from a boat into the ocean in pursuit of her friend, Samantha, but the authorities ignored Ameliaís testimony, having determined that Amelia plunged into the cold water alone and was rescued by crew members.
Since the general public and the authorities constitute an unsympathetic audience, judging her psychologically unstable, Amelia resorts to a more intimate exercise: retelling her story to the reader, who is asked to determine the truth by the final page. On this, the last day of a long, productive existence, Amelia embraces death with the same equanimity as life, having long since made peace with the past, her story long devoid of passion but filled with treasured memories.
Samantha and Amelia meet as children on Nantucket, instant best friends with a lifetime bond, or at least until the sad circumstances that convince Samantha that death is the only solution. Given a naturally antagonistic relationship with her mother, Amelia hopes to join the Red Cross at the beginning of World War I. Changing her birth certificate with Samís help, Amelia barely passes inspection but is accepted into the organization.
After a brief but earnest romance in New York with a soldier soon shipping out, it is in Paris that Amelia comes face to face with the realities of warfare. Shocked by the devastation of the cities and the human toll on the shattered soldiers, Amelia harbors no illusions of the glamour of war, generously plunging into her duties but shocked by what she sees. She makes wartime friends and enjoys flirtations with willing soldiers but remains inconsolable when she learns her first love has been killed in action.
For Amelia, it is Samanthaís clear, comforting voice that enables her to survive the years in theater, returning to Nantucket forever the outsider, not having been born on the island but as determined and stubborn as any proud New Englander. The two young women pick up the friendship enthusiastically, but Samís first love introduces a breech that is unexpected, the relationship shifting with Samís loyalties.
When Samís romance turns from hopeful to tragic with the death of her fiancť, the consequences of the affair create a terrible rift between Sam and her family. Then comes the fateful day on the ship and Sam is lost forever to Amelia, not only in fact but in the minds of those who will not believe Ameliaís story.
Besides her years as a nurse, Amelia has a colorful history as part of the womenís suffrage movement as well as an independent spirit, a feisty old woman to the end, unafraid of uttering obscenities or swilling her Jack Daniels. Although the book loses its cohesiveness quite early - reading more as an autobiography than a novel - Amelia Moorland is vital and refreshing, a testament to America at its best, pride the by-product of a well-lived life.