Ninah Huff is the granddaughter of the founder of the Church of Fire and Brimstone and God's Almighty Baptizing Wind, an isolated southern religious community ruled by its patriarch. Ninah is fourteen and full of contradictory feelings. She sees the outside world only at school, where her long dresses and un-cut hair mark her odd and keep her apart from the other girls. She loves her family, but is never sure that she is truly "holy" enough. In particular, she worries about the sanctity of her feelings for James, her prayer partner, as they spend an hour a day together in prayer and meditation, "being Jesus to each other." She is determined not to sin with James - so determined that she's willing to fill her shoes with shells to keep her mind on Jesus' pain.
When Ninah is discovered to be pregnant, the community is outraged. But in the midst of tragedy and loneliness, Ninah continues to maintain that she is not guilty of the sin of fornication; she says that a holy child grows inside her. No amount of punishment can make her recant.
And in the end there is a miracle, though like most miracles, it takes an unpredictable form. Ninah must face with sudden clarity the things she must do for the sake of her own life, and her child's. She will come to understand at last that to embrace the life of the normal world can be a holy act.