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Gaynell McGowan, forced to spend the summer of 1963 in her little town of Beulah, Alabama, returns home from college to face a provincial purgatory until classes resume in the fall. But history is about to strike Beulah like a deadly tornado. A federal order to integrate the high school shakes the town to its foundation and pits friend against neighbor. White citizens polarize into integrationists and segregationists with both sides claiming the favor of God and vying for the favor of reporters and news cameras that swarm over the town. Gaynell welcomes the disruption of a stagnant small-town summer, but then finds herself swirling at the scandalous center of the storm. And she finds her family, as well as her town, tearing apart.