CAMIE McCAIN had never met a hermit, not till Claude shows up smack-dab in the middle of Aunt Charlene’s old-timey kitchen. Camie reckons Uncle Glen is the recluse’s only friend. Off and on that summer, she spies Claude in the most unlikely places, but he vanishes before she can catch up to talk to him. Does he really live in a barrel in some lonely holler like the kids at church say? Is he on the run from the law? How come he shies away from folks like a skittish colt?
Camie has the summer of her life and one adventure after another. She tames an ornery rooster, helps put by for winter, learns to swim, and goes to camp meetin' with all the mountain folk. She dreads the day she has to return to the dirty factory town where her family lives.
Then one day tragedy strikes the mountain. Camie blames herself. Angry and afraid, she bolts into the mountains where she gets lost in a thunderstorm, tumbles down an incline, wrenches her ankle, and encounters Claude—this time in an abandoned mine. She tells him of the grief that has come to her family and claims it’s her fault. After all, didn’t she pray all wrong? And didn’t she keep a deadly secret?
Claude reveals some secrets of his own, including his role in a mine disaster and how that led to his becoming a recluse. He tends to Camie’s ankle and helps her home, where she discovers an important truth from a cicada shell.