In 1965 Bird, christened Avocet, aged six, is living with her family in a Florida citrus grove. Daddy and Mama, who run a general store, fight frequently and drink too much; Bird and her older sister Phoebe are beaten equally frequently. Daddy is eventually found dead in his car; Mama and the girls leave the grove and move into a trailer in the grounds of a motel outside Tampa. Bird, against Mama's wishes, makes friends with Miss Zora, a black woman in a neighbouring trailer. Miss Zora is a kindly white witch, whose wisdom and herbal remedies provide a mainstay in Bird's difficult life. Bird runs away to the city to escape her mother's cruelty, and meets a gentle biker who brings her home. Mama finally agrees to get help for her alcoholism, and Miss Zora takes Bird and Phoebe to live with her at her home in South Florida.