Janet Duffy, a spunky, seventeen-year-old Irish girl, is eager to start college―but instability between her alcoholic father and self-absorbed mother jeopardize her dream, so she sets up her own apartment with her younger sister in Jamaica, Queens, and treks to City College in Manhattan, New York. The routine is deadening, but she finds purpose in the black community, working for a mural painter and volunteering for a civil rights activist.
After turning eighteen, Janet marches with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and falls for a young black saxophone player, Carmen. Her father, a policeman, explodes over their relationship, so Janet rebels―runs away with the jazz musician, and then winds up in the East Village in the Summer of Love. In the ensuing months she deals with heartbreak, sexual harassment, poverty, and danger―but eventually, she asks for the help she needs in order to pick up the pieces of her life and return to her dream.