The book begins in New York City, where Ronnie Miller lives with her brother Jonah and mother Kim. Ronnie’s parents are divorced, and her father Steve lives in Wilmington, North Carolina. Ronnie is accustomed to New York life where she is friends and hangs out with people who are into drugs and partying, but Ronnie isn’t into those types of things, which highlights how she still has morals that she holds throughout the book. But she had been struggling with her grades in school and repeatedly breaks the rules her mother sets for her.
The summer after Ronnie’s senior year, she and her brother are spending it with their father who Ronnie hasn’t spoken to since he left their family about 3 years ago. When they get to Wilmington she ignores him and doesn’t speak to him much. Steve is a passionate pianist who had influenced Ronnie a lot when she was younger, where she had once been an avid piano player too who recently got a full scholarship to Juilliard that she is hesitant to take due to her hatred of her father and how he influenced her passion for piano. But immediately when her parents divorced she never played the piano again. She gets extremely upset whenever Steve plays the piano so he decided to board it up once she got there. Ronnie explores the beach and meets a guy named Will, who is a volleyball player that ran into her as she was walking by. She also bumps into a girl who goes by the name of “Blaze” while she tries to find a clean shirt.
Blaze is really gothic and rebellious, and she’s into the same things Ronnie’s friends were in New York, so Ronnie befriends Blaze. Blaze introduces her to her boyfriend Marcus who is just as rebellious as she is, but he develops a desire for Ronnie which Blaze eventually finds out about. So while they are all shopping, Blaze puts a couple CD’s in Ronnies bag which made Ronnie look like she shoplifted which resulted into her getting arrested, and their friendship ends. Ronnie returns home to find her brother and father flying kites on the beach. Jonah is 11 years old and adores his father, unlike Ronnie. Steve had shown him a stained glass window he is replacing for the church he went to as a kid, that had burned down a couple months ago.
The church’s destruction had been traced to Steve who thinks he was the only person in there when the fire erupted, so he feels it is his duty to restore the window that was destroyed as well. Ronnie finds a nest of sea turtles the next day that she takes care of because the local aquarium hadn’t taken much precautions to the nest or protection to it. So that night she decides to sleep outside with the nest, then the local aquarium attendant arrives, which is Will who she met at the volleyball game. She is very stand offish at first while he is making an effort to get to know her, but Ronnie warms up to him after he eventually takes her on a tour of the aquarium and understands his passion for the turtles and care he shows them. Ronnie and Will fall in love and are together all summer while she still maintains attending her court dates because of the shoplifting scandal that Blaze had put her in. The turtles hatch one night, and Ronnie, Jonah, Steve, and Will are all there to see them.
But Steve’s face begins to cover in blood, so they take him to the hospital. Steve then reveals to the kids that he has terminal cancer, and wanted the kids to be with him in his last months alive. Already upset because of her father and as the summer ends, Ronnie’s realization that she and Will won’t be together when they leave for college creates a conflict within her to the point that she breaks up with Will. She decides to stay with her father as he nears his death and dedicates herself to his health.
Her father passes away about a week later in his sleep, after Ronnie had secretly finished a song he was writing. Will and Ronnie get back together after she decides to go to Juilliard, and Will says he is transferring to Columbia University in New York so that they can be together.