Clem, an ordinary lad in Norfolk, embarks on a secret romance with Frankie, the daughter of the wealthy local landowner.
His thoughts are interweaved with descriptions of family history, setting the scene of his life on a council estate and painting vivid pictures of his parents and grandmother, complete with local dialect. Attitudes and living conditions differed greatly for the three generations and these are recounted in a lively and sometimes comical tone.
Over the course of the summer, Clem and Frankie meet in a deserted barn until it is knocked down in a land-clearing exercise. Fearing the world is actually going to be blown up by nuclear missiles, they plan a consummative tryst on a deserted beach, with life-changing and calamitous results. Now middle-aged and living in New York, Clem looks back on events, and the connections that bind his family with world events are gradually revealed.
The Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 may seem an unlikely backdrop for a coming-of-age novel, but Mal Peet's brave subject matter works brilliantly.