In a small town near Tampa, Florida, seven-year-old Mary Adler lives with uncle and ''de facto'' guardian, Frank. Her best friend is her 40-ish neighbor, Roberta. On her first day of first grade, she shows remarkable mathematical talent, which impresses her teacher, Bonnie Stevenson. There, despite her initial disdain for average children her own age and her boredom with their classwork, she begins to bond with them when she brings her one-eyed cat, Fred, for Show and tell (education) and later defends a classmate from a bully on the bus. Mary is offered a scholarship to a private school for gifted children. However, Frank turns it down. Based on his family's experiences with similar schools, he fears Mary will not have a chance at a "normal" childhood.