The story follows Selina Peake DeJong whose father was a gambler and killed by mistake.
Selina was only nineteen at the time in 1888 and she surprises her friends in that she doesn't want to go and live with her two elderly aunts in Vermont. Instead, she shows her independence and determination to succeed on her own. She tries to maintain her dignity and gets a job as a teacher at the Dutch school in High Plains, ten miles outside of Chicago.
At her first social event, she makes up a picnic basket that will be auctioned off. Men bid on the baskets that the women make up and then get to eat the food in the basket with the woman who prepared it.
Being from the city, Selina prepares tasty items and puts the food in a small box, tied by a ribbon.
When the bidding begins, the auctioneer ridicules this small item but men begin to bid large amounts and one farmer wins with an exorbitant price. Pervus De Jong tells her that he felt badly when others began laughing. He admits that he has had no schooling so Selina agrees to teach him after school.
During these lessons, Purvus receives book learning and Selina learns about farm life from him. They develop feelings for each other and these two very different people marry the following May.
This enjoyable novel tells of the hardships of farming before the turn of the century when there were no tractors or automobiles to get farm goods to markets.
When Selina's son, Dirk, is born, she wants to make sure that he will grow up in a world of books and literature and have more from his life.
An important literary work, when tragedy strikes, Selina is one of the early women who, once again, demonstrates her independence and she runs the farm by herself and finds a better way to sell her goods at market.
We see the progress and improvements begin and as Dirk grows older, his well developed relationship with his mother and people in the Chicago society.
This is a well written novel in the realistic literary style and a work that deserved winning the Pulitzer Prize.