The children who reside at Sunset Terrace scatter across a terrain of dilapidated chain-link fences and cracked concrete, where a simple outdoor storage cabinet is transformed into a convenient hiding place for cigarettes and candy stolen from the corner store. Here children roam the city streets and vacant, trash-strewn lots, imagination their only escape from a place without dreams and without hope. The touted "trickle-down" economics of the 80's have yet to reach the residents of Sunset Terrace, an economic wasteland where women without husbands form their own society and subsist on food stamps, foster children and minimum wage jobs.
When Elaine, an itinerant chef, moves into the rent-controlled building with two young daughters, her intention is to set down roots after wandering from job to job since her husband's death and moving from one cheap motel to another. But a lack of resources dogs the small family who live from paycheck to paycheck, town to town. Nine-year-old Hannah is desperate for a role model, as younger sister Daisy clings to Elaine, retreating into childish dependency. Since her father's suicide, Hannah is at risk, vulnerable to the demands of the other children of Sunset Terrace, always on the wrong side of belonging.
Bridget, also nine, is a product of the foster care system, savvy, sexually abused and cynical, a child who uses her wits for defense against an indifferent world that loses such children through bureaucratic cracks. Bridget assumes a tough fašade, smart mouth and intimidating demeanor. Hannah is drawn to Bridget like moth to flame. Mixed emotions take Hannah, confused by the turbulent feelings Bridget evokes, and her thoughts to dark places. Eventually, Bridget's escalating belligerence subtly changes their competitive games, until Hannah realizes that she no longer needs the destructive girl's approval.
When Elaine meets an available man at Parents Without Partners, she hits the jackpot. Proposing marriage to Elaine, Sam presents a rare opportunity for mother and daughters. Although the small family has been sliding incrementally downhill, surrounded by decay and neglect, they are happily re-energized by a future full of promise. Hannah's last few days with Bridget are defining ones in her short life, the source of unintended consequences that haunt her for years to come. Their final game is tainted by animosity, forcing Hannah to protect her younger sister from harm when the sisters are frightened by Bridget's sudden outburst of rage.
Years later, as a young woman, Hannah returns to Sunset Terrace, only to find that the buildings have been razed in preparation for more affluent housing. Only one lonely square of cracked cement remains untouched; there, crooked letters proudly proclaim "Bridget '83," a potent reminder of a girl determined to make her mark on the world. That, and the memory of Bridget's quirky and irreverent smile.