Author Frances Itani brings the reader to a small, pre-World War I Ontario town called Deseronto, where the O'Neil family owns a hotel. The book follows the story of Grania O'Neil, a girl who lost her hearing when she was five years old as a result of contracting scarlet fever. The novel follows Grania and her family as they learn to accept and adapt to her as a non-hearing person. The first part of the novel establishes the central role Grania's grandmother, known as "Mamo," plays in helping Grania acquire and understand the language of the hearing world, and in convincing Grania's parent to send her to the School for the Deaf in a nearby city. Though the separation from her family is initially traumatic for Grania, the School for the Deaf opens a world of friendship, opportunity and love for Grania.
The second half of the novel alternates between Grania's narrative and that of her young husband, Jim, who becomes a stretcher bearer in the First World War. The novel parallels her struggle with the hearing world with Jim's struggle to survive, in mind and body, the staggering, soul-killing horror of war.