Suffering from economical and personal tragegy, the Rivers abandon their lifetime home to travel west across Texas. Fourteen-year-old Jake must deal with a new home and school in a country that seems harsh, barren, and hostile. He suffers the worst humiliation of his life on the first day of school. Jake follows new friend Nocona Wells to a different school, where he meets bold and beautiful Loretta, daughter of a Baptist minister. Jake starts to love his new home and school until a teacher-coach targets him for further humiliation. When the Baptist minister and his family disappear without explanation, Jake is blamed. He finds little solace at home as he causes his father to suffer a critical injury.