Bobby, his mother, and his older brother are taking Grandmother and her car to Florida. Starting in Ohio, they visit various Civil War sites because of Ricky’s obsession with that historical period. Bobby feels detached from his brother’s enthusiasm, but thoughts of President Lincoln’s assassination, Grandfather’s fatal heart attack several months before, and the grizzly deaths of so many Civil War soldiers begin merging in Bobby’s mind. For the first time in his life, he begins to see a world outside of his own self-absorption. When his mother wrecks the car in Atlanta, Bobby dreads returning home on the bus with “chocolates” (his name for colored people). As they wait to board the bus, he learns that his family bought the three tickets promised to a black family desperate to get to Dalton, Georgia, where their young son is the presumed victim of racial violence. Their despair stirs something in Bobby’s heart.
The two stories unfold separately until the end of the book. Abbott tells about the white family’s journey in third person with Bobby as the most developed character. The black family’s story is told through several first person accounts which focus primarily on the South’s racial tension. The Civil War, Lincoln’s assassination, slavery, the racial atmosphere of the 1950s, and Bobby’s fear of blacks, death, and his father’s physical abuse provide a loosely knit theme that’s just too nebulous to truly grasp. The alternating narratives are confusing because it’s hard to keep track of the black people and their relationship to each other. And, then, there are the plot elements that remain unresolved.