The summer of 1960 in the town of Millerton, the summer of Hattie Owen's 12th birthday, taught her some important lessons about life. That summer Hattie learned about pure unselfconscious innocence, about intolerance and about tragic results that can't always be anticipated. These lessons were learned because of three initially unrelated events: the arrival of a new boarder at Hattie's parent's boarding house just before the summer began, the arrival of 'Fred Carmel's Funtime Carnival' and the arrival of Hattie's Uncle Adam -- an uncle that she never knew existed.
Until that summer, Hattie never knew that her mother had a brother named Adam or that he had been sent away to a “special school” when she was barely two-years-old. No one, in Hattie's memory, had ever mentioned Adam, it was as if he was a family secret. Now, however, Adam was home in Millerton for the summer, living with Hattie's grandparents; his school had closed its doors and a new one needed to be found.
Adam was, to say the least, unique. Chronologically, Adam was 21 years old but intellectually he was a child ruled by a child's emotions. Adam simply could not function well in a world where adults were expected to have social skills that would allow them to blend in with the community and, at 'appropriate' times, become 'invisible'.
To Hattie, Adam was more like the younger brother she never had than he was an Uncle; pure fun, purely innocent, always spontaneous and always in need of a guiding hand. Adam also added another dimension to Hattie's life, he brought her a new awareness of her family and her town. Hattie's entrenched standards of fairness, tolerance and understanding were severely challenged by Adam's reception in Millerton; the children of the community considered him a “freak,” to the adults he was an oddity and a sometimes nuisance and to his own parents Adam was clearly an unwelcome visitor that had to be tolerated. Hattie responded to these attitudes by making it her self-appointed task to guide Adam through his temporary life in Millerton and that's how Adam became introduced to Fred Carmel's Funtime Carnival and to Angel Valentine, the new border at her parent's boarding house.
In small towns of the 1960s the occasional visit of a traveling carnival was an event that gained the attention of every adult and child in town; and so it was in the summer of 1960 when the carnival came to Millerton.
Hattie was a frequent visitor to the carnival, and she eventually made friends with Leila, a girl her age who worked at the carnival and who, it turned out, was Fred Carmel's niece.
Hattie arranged for Adam to visit the carnival and enjoyed his first daytime trip to the carnival so much that Hattie and Leila came up with a plan to get him there at night; on a night when he was supposed to be restricted to his room so he wouldn't interfere with a formal party at his home. That night, the lights and atmosphere of the carnival grounds so overwhelmed Adam that he became brave enough to temporarily forget his fear of heights. The evening came to an almost tragic end on the Ferris Wheel and got both Hattie and Adam in deep trouble with their respective parents.
Worse trouble was in the forecast when Adam met Angel Valentine. Angel Valentine was single, attractive, hard working, personable and somewhat self-absorbed. From the moment Adam laid eyes on Angel he began to fantasize a relationship between them and he went into a “courting” mode. His attraction to Angel was obvious to Hattie but Angel was oblivious; if she noticed Adam's romantic notions at all, she completely misinterpreted them as just another eccentricity of the eccentric Adam.
Adam was able to deal fairly well with most of life's obstacles. He was able to accept and even understand his parents continual overreactions to his misadventures; he was able to overcome the sting of the insults and ridicule of the adults and children of the town of Millerton, he was,ble to cope with his fear of heights. Adam could not, however, continue to face life when he walked through the wrong door at the wrong time and his fantasy of a relationship with Angel Valentine was brutally shattered. To Adam, that relationship might have been a key to normality -- a key that he then realized was irretrievably lost.