Following after the events of The Heron Stayed, Chap Smith's life continues in urban Virginia, living with his sister Lori while his father suffers from dementia in an Indiana Veteran's Hospital. Separated from his friends, his girlfriend, and the small-town life that was all he ever knew, Chap feels like a fish out of water, despite easily making friends with his neighbor Owen. This feeling increases but then subsides when he enrolls in The Academy for Mutual Instruction, an experimental school that puts the role of learning and teaching in the hands of its students. Chap takes on his new educational opportunity with gusto, even as dangerous neighbors and family tragedy complicate his young life further. With a support group of old and new friends, teachers, and an opportunity to meet his sisters separated by distance, Chap matures and approaches adulthood after each new trial.
Perhaps the most interesting part about this book is the content revolving around The Academy for Mutual Instruction. In the author's notes, she reveals that many of the ideas surrounding this fictional school come from her father, an educator who was fascinated with the concept of redesigning existing educational models. The other element of this book that readers will be drawn to is the affable charm of its main character, Chap. Though young in physical age, Chap is thoughtful, innocent, and generally considerate. As he transitions from country boy to life in the city, he balances these two lives in transition by making use of the advantages of the city while keeping his heart in small-town America. Readers of The Heron Stayed will already be familiar with Chap's quiet magnetism, and new readers can jump right in here because of Chap's homesickness leading him to correspond with friends and teachers with wistful memories and recollections.