Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina. She has to go to a different school where she's no good at writing. Some stores she can go into. Some stores and the local library she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and the Ku Klux Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. What no one knows is that Stella sneaks out every night to write in her hidden journal. While wandering outside one late night in 1932, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see—a burning cross set by the Klan. Stella’s community—her world—is upended.
The Klan threatens the folks in her community and makes good on that threat when Stella's dad and a few other men go to town to register to vote. Things get tough, but the community relies on itself and the kindness of others and stands tall in the face of the Klan. Through everything, Stella learns that she might not be so bad at writing after all, and comes to find a real talent in herself she never knew existed. Stella also learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.