A 19th-century Shaker woman hides packets of her writing because her brother threatens to tear up such hogwash. When a present-day schoolteacher discovers these pages, she writes to a Honolulu librarian for traces of the brother, a whaler. As the Shaker communes were staunchly socialist and pacifist, Ginn and Van are drawn into a correspondence via their interest in still current social problems in Lydie's emerging pages.
Lydie's concern for community is reflected in Ginn's protests against fracking and Van's alarm at global warming. Van is also drawn to Lydie's "gifts of the Spirit" (ecstatic dancing, visions, art) because he connects her Shaker practices with his on-going cultural efforts to recover contact with his aumakua, Hawaiian ancestors.
One third of the novel is in Lydie's colloquial voice: exuberant, funny, blunt, and bold. She has a sexual manifesto that would shock her 19th-century community and might also surprise our present permissive one. In the other two-thirds of the book, we hear Van's worries for his partner deployed in Iraq, as well as Ginn's unemployment woes. All three characters rally for social justice in a world where the destruction of dissenting thought threatens to repeat itself again and again.