Where three rivers meet in middle Tennessee is a small rural community named Rock Island. The rivers form a lake, and across it stands a steel span bridge, the Bridge Over Calm Water. On a nearby farm, fifteen-year-old Rea Wilson is haunted throughout her childhood by a nightmare about the bridge.The youngest in her family, Rea is expected to marry and supply her father with cheap farm labor. Until then, Rea must work the farm in place of her two brothers, who left home for college. Isolated, she has few friends. Rock Island's doctor, Robert McKinney, gives Rea a ride to high school every day and also a part-time job in his clinic. The doctor's generosity is both a blessing and a curse, as the steel bridge stands between her and the McKinney home. In 1941, Rea's childhood nightmare becomes reality when she is attacked on the bridge. In a world torn by war, Rea faces the shame of an unwanted pregnancy. She can give the baby girl up to the doctor and his wife, or raise baby Lilly on the farm. She keeps her attacker's identity a secret, but it's one reason she eventually gives her daughter to the McKinneys.A condition set by the doctor's wife forces Rea to move away, deep into the Appalachians. Within those mountains, Rea struggles to survive, and to accept the new life awaiting her there.
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