Gladys is a scatty, but not unkindly, neglectful mother who muddles through her life with her four children, convinced that everything will be all right when she wins the pools. Brenda, her eldest daughter, covers up for her mother by being the main backbone of the house. But her dreams are also to get away from it all, though more realistically than by winning the pools. Brenda aims to pass the scholarship, as the old 11 plus exam was called in the early 1950s, to get into a posh school, and then, one day, to have a worthy fulfilling job.
However Brenda is an outsider, being, in spite of her efforts, very scruffy. She does however manage to make friends with another girl who is an outsider, too. Mary comes from a completely different home: religious, respectable, prim and very clean. But she makes no friends because she is so timid.
Brenda and Mary befriend each other and together scheme about how they can both get into the High School. They have fun together: walking round Woolworths, going to the pictures, talking about their fantasies… Slowly awakening to their sexuality.
Each girl is envious of the other’s home life. The glorious untamed mess of Brenda’s home and family life entrances Mary, whereas hers feels tight and like a prison. Brenda, who has nowhere to study for the oncoming exam, craves the peace and quiet of Mary’s home. But Mary’s timidity is not without a reason. For all the trappings of her comfortable from the outside middle class life, Mary is hiding a secret whose revelation is at the centre of an awakening from grief and from emotional and mental servitude.