Set in the seaside town of Gloucester, on Cape Ann, Massachusetts, fifty-nine-year-old Kathleen Levine, a longtime resident, is graceful, maternal, and steady, a devoted children’s librarian, a convert to Judaism, the mother of two grown sons. But when she is diagnosed with breast cancer — which killed her sister fifteen years earlier — her life is thrown into turmoil. Frightened, lonesome for a woman to talk to, burdened by secrets, she meets Joyce Tabachnik and a friendship is born. Forty-two-year-old Joyce, restless and funny, a freelance writer with literary aspirations, has just bought a small house in Gloucester, where she hopes to write as well as vacation with her family. Like Kathleen, Joyce is at a fragile juncture in her life. With her twelve-year-old daughter becoming increasingly testy and distant, she’s also feeling a lack of connection to her husband.
A mutual appreciation of books, a shared sense of humor, and the beauty of the natural world bring the two women together for long walks along Good Harbor beach. Slowly, they begin to share their personal histories and to realize how much they can learn from each other. Ultimately they wrestle with some startling secrets, and help each other to confront scars left by old emotional wounds.