Seventeen-year-old Patrick O'Neall dreams of going to college one day and becoming a famous writer—until news arrives of his father's death in a place called Gettysburg. Forced off their farm, the family migrates north, hoping to find work in the booming mill towns of industrial New England. What they find in the factory town of Leeland is not a better life, but drudgery and poverty and heartache. Patrick and his family must work long hours in dangerous conditions for miserable pay. They are no better off than slaves.
Patrick's friend has found a shortcut to the good life: robbing the wealthy mill owners. And he wants Patrick to join his gang.
Patrick must choose. He wants to believe in America as the land of opportunity, but is the price of his dream too high?