It's the summer of 1907 and the sun is scorching down on Mary Pearl in the Arizona Territory. Mary Pearl and her sister Esther take their minds off the heat by sneaking banned Jane Austen novels. In walks old-fashioned old-money suitor Aubrey Hanna, here to whisk seventeen-year-old Mary Pearl off her feet with a hasty engagement. As autumn approaches, Mary Pearl's Wheaton College acceptance counters quick marriage preparations. Days of travel carry her deep into a sophisticated new world of Northern girls' schooling. Seeking friendship but finding foes, Mary Pearl not only learns how to write, read, and draw, but also how to act, dress, and be a woman.