We all long for “another life altogether” at some point. Thirteen-year-old Jesse Bennett has more reason than most to want to escape into another life. She has lived all her life with her mother’s eccentric behavior, which has just culminated in a suicide attempt and hospitalization. Even though she knows that she will be found out eventually, Jesse tells her classmates that her mother is away on a world cruise that she won in a contest. To bolster her story, she writes detailed letters which are supposedly from her mother (after having researched each destination) and reads them aloud in home room. Of course, in a small town news travels fast and Jesse’s ploy is revealed–and ridiculed. Soon after her mother returns from the mental hospital, her father moves them to an even smaller town in the hopes that they can all get a fresh start.
Jesse is pinning all her hopes on this opportunity to start over. She “providentially” makes friends with a girl who is popular at her new school and she resolves to do everything she can to keep her position in the “in” crowd. At the same time she develops a crush on an older girl and she escapes again into writing letters that she never sends, this time to the object of her affections about their “life together.”
Meanwhile, at home, Jesse worries constantly about her mother, fearing that she will try to kill herself again. She has to take over a lot of the familial responsibilities while her father alternates between denial and hare-brained schemes to help his wife to “snap out of it.” Further complicating her family life is the boyfriend of her aunt who secretly torments her and her jail-bird uncle who comes to live with them after his release from prison.