Cassie Logan, the outspoken black heroine of three earlier novels by Mildred D. Taylor including the Newbery Award-winning "Roll of thunder, Hear My Cry," reappears in Taylor's new story. But here Cassie is only 9 years old and plays a relatively minor role.
The central character this time is Mr. Tom Bee, an old fisherman and a friend to Cassie and her three brothers, Stacey, Christopher-John, and Little Man. As the children watch through the open door of the Wallace general store, Mr. Tom does what no other black in their rural Mississippi town would have dared to do in that year of 1933: He calls the white owner of the store, Mr. John Wallace, by his first name. "Well, howdy there, John!" he exclaims. "Glad ya finally done brought yourself on in here! These here boys-a yours ain't been none too friendly."
Wallace fills Mr. Tom's order but warns him never to call him John again. "I'm losin' face," he says. Later, the children ask Mr. Tom how he had the nerve to challenge Wallace, and the old fisherman explains that, when Wallace was a boy, he saved his life not once, but twice.
Wallace said he'd never forget what Tom had done for him. But when he came back from Vicksburg and opened his store, he expected Tom to call him "Mr. Wallace" like all the other blacks. Tom went along with it for years, but now he's decided to confront his old friend. He tells Cassie and the others: "I figures I'm close 'nough to meetin' my Maker, it don't much matter he likes it or not."