When August, an anthropologist who has studied the funeral traditions of different cultures, revisits her old neighborhood after her father's death, her reunion with a brother and a chance encounter with an old friend bring back a flood of childhood memories. Flashbacks depict the isolation she felt moving from rural Tennessee to New York and show how her later years were influenced by the black power movement, nearby street violence, her father's religious conversion, and her mother's haunting absence. August's memories of her Brooklyn companions--a tightly knit group of neighborhood girls--are memorable and profound. There's dancer Angela, who keeps her home life a carefully guarded secret; beautiful Gigi, who loses her innocence too young; and Sylvia, "diamonded over, brilliant," whose strict father wants her to study law. With dreams as varied as their conflicts, the young women confront dangers lurking on the streets, discover first love, and pave paths that will eventually lead them in different directions.