Stanley Novak, a first-generation Polish immigrant, settles in Bakerton and finds work in the booming local mine.
He marries Rose, a shy, beautiful Italian girl. They move to a mine-owned house in an area of town known as Polish Hill, teeming with European immigrants, all chasing the American Dream. Five children follow for the Novaks.
The Novaks are trying to find their identities in a vastly changing world. The eldest, George, is drafted to the Pacific when America joins World War II. He returns determined to leave Bakerton behind. Dorothy, a fragile and naive girl, finds it hard to cope with her desk job in Washington. Joyce, fiercely intelligent, must hold the family together and remains bitterly aware of the life she could have had. Sandy swans through life with his movie-star looks, never taking responsibility for his actions. And Lucy, the youngest, must find her own path in the shadow of her formidable siblings.
Haigh gives us a beautiful snapshot of company houses and union squabbles; the boom and bust of the post-war years; the immigrant neighborhoods of Swedetown, Little Italy and Polish Hill; the miners, undertakers, soldiers, firemen and housewives who populate the small town and bring it to life.