For thirteen-year-old Bella, life isn''t turning out quite as she''d hoped. She lives at The Woodman Inn in Holderness, the public house run by her family, but she is surrounded by two older brothers who never pull their weight and a younger sister who is in a world of her own. When their mother, Sarah, tells Bella not only that their father is seriously ill, but that she is also expecting a fifth child, all responsibility falls on the trustworthy and sensible Bella, for whom the dream of becoming a teacher is soon a long-lost memory. Times are extremely hard. One brother starts drinking heavily from the family''s own supplies; the other is merely passing his time lazing around until he''s old enough to join the army. When their father dies, Sarah takes little interest in the newborn Henry, and Bella takes on the role of mother to him. Bella''s days are brightened by the odd visit from Jamie Lucan, the eighteen-year-old son of a wealthy landowner in a neighbouring town. From a very modest upbringing and also grieving the loss of a parent, Jamie has more in common with Bella than she thinks. Several years pass and Sarah announces that the family are to move to Hull -- it is where she herself was raised and wants to return, and she has arranged to take over a public house there. Bella is beside herself at the thought of giving up their family home. And, more importantly, she told Jamie Lucan that if he should return to Holderness from university, she would still be there. When Bella visits Hull and sees the dilapidated inn they are about to take over in one of the roughest areas of the city, she is shocked. Could things get any worse? Or could this move actually be a blessing in disguise for Bella, allowing her the opportunities to reach her full potential?