The place is Alusia, Alabama, on Big Sandy Mountain, a final joint in the Appalachian spine. In the early 1940s, twelve-year-old Ark Griffith, who wishes he were sixteen, old enough to handle life's problems, lives with his mother and younger brother, Crackers, in the Saratogan cotton mill village. His simpleminded cousin, Nell, lives next door, and concerns the villagers. Ark ages quickly when his family, including his Uncle Boyd, becomes embroiled with the infamous Buckalews. An explosive situation surrounding the drowning death of a village child occurs. The Buckalew family is presumed guilty, resists a sheriff's posse and deaths ensue. Later, Boyd discovers the Buckalews are innocent of an earlier incident involving Nell, also a suspect in the drowning. A disturbed Boyd admits his own mistakes and tells that much of what happened might have been avoided if people only had the power to view others' lives like the Saratogan trees-from high above.
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