Dawn Longchamp lives with her parents, Ormand and Sally Jean, and her brother, Jimmy. They move often and have very unstable lives. Ormand gets a custodial job at Emerson Peabody, a private high school for the elite. Dawn discovers that she has raw singing talent, but she and Jimmy do not fit in well with the rich kids.
Clara Sue Cutler is a popular girl at the school who is mean to Dawn because of her status. Her brother Phillip, however, shows warmth toward Dawn. Dawn likes him too, but is inexperienced with boys. They begin dating.
When Sally Jean gets pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl, Fern, she becomes very unhealthy. Sally Jean dies after Dawn’s first performance with the school choir. After her death, a security guard at the hospital recognizes Sally Jean and Ormand. When police arrive at their home later, Dawn learns that she was kidnapped when she was a baby. Her real parents are Laura Sue and Randolph Cutler.
Dawn is taken to Cutler’s Cove in Virginia when Ormand is arrested for the kidnapping. Jimmy and Fern are placed in foster homes. Dawn has acquired two new siblings – Clara Sue and Phillip.
Dawn finds her most unwanted family member in Grandmother Cutler. Grandmother Cutler is not at all pleased about the return of her granddaughter, and requires Dawn to go by the name she was given at birth, Eugenia. The whole family helps out at the family’s resort, and Dawn’s duties include being a maid.
Dawn’s new parents are not emotionally attached to her. Randolph is a weak person who always obeys his mother. Laura Sue is too concerned with her own status and beauty to help Dawn. Dawn is fired from her job as maid when Clara Sue makes it appear that Dawn has stolen jewelry from guests.
Phillip helps Jimmy secretly visit Dawn at the resort. Jimmy and Dawn admit that they have romantic feelings for each other. Still, they have trouble connecting because of their history believing they were brother and sister. When Clara Sue discovers Jimmy is at the resort, Grandmother Cutler steps in. Jimmy is sent back to his foster parents.
Phillip rapes Dawn when she is about to take a shower. Dawn, upset and outraged, sets out to find the real truth about her background. Her old nurse, Mrs. Dalton, reveals that her kidnapping was a staged event because Laura Sue had become pregnant by somebody other than Randolph. Ormand and Sally Jean had been paid off.
With this new information, Dawn confronts Grandmother Cutler. Dawn is given the option to go to a performance arts school in New York, far away from the family. If she does this, Ormand will be released from prison. Dawn accepts the offer.