16-year-old Mattie Gokey would do anything for a college education, and she isn’t afraid of working hard toward her goal. Since her mother died, Mattie has to help her father on his farm and take care of her younger sisters….but this leaves little time for Mattie’s studies. Her pa thinks it’s a waste of time anyway, when there are chores to be done and young ones to be raised. He has little patience for his daughter’s book reading and notebook scribbling. Even if her father would allow her to go away to college, how can Mattie go back on her promise to her mother to take care of the other girls? When her father needs money and Mattie is allowed to work at a nearby hotel during the summer, her life is forever changed. Grace Brown, a mysterious young woman staying at the hotel, hands Mattie a packet of letters and tells Mattie to burn them if anything happens to her. The next day Grace is found dead, drowned in the lake. Reading the letters and thinking about Grace’s short life inspires Mattie to think about her own life…and to take her future into her own hands.