It is the start of a long, hot summer. Cherry and Baby are working at the pickle plant – everyone in Sweet Valley does this sooner or later – saving for the final year of their art degrees. As the machines hum and pulse with heat, the only relief is the wind-chill factor, the occasional breeze that evaporates the skin’s film of sweat and draws the heat off for a few seconds. Cherry is over six foot, thin as a reed with pale skin and wild blonde hair. She has been brought up in the Holiness Church, as innocent and naive as it is possible to be. Baby is beautiful and petite, an Oriental jewel, sassy and damaged – and Cherry’s protector. But nobody can protect Cherry from real life this summer and it begins when Carlene is dragged murdered from the lake. And when the boys come home from Vietnam, in an indefinable way the war comes back too, seeping into everyone’s lives as the awful truth begins to unravel about who killed Carlene and why.