Katie sends her children on a walk the day after the funeral. When the children see an announcement for a "Sweet Singer" they cry out their grief for the first time. Francie says bad things about God which frighten Neeley. She ends by saying she no longer believes in Him. At home, their mama has made them hot chocolate. Like her children, Katie has also been crying. That night, the read the Christmas story, and Katie wonders if Johnny stopped drinking because he was trying to be better for the coming child. In an unusual gesture, she kisses her children and tells them she is their mother and their father now.
Katie's baby is due in May, and she is not well enough to work as hard as usual. When she cannot pay her insurance, the agent, who has been like a friend to their family, advises her to cash in her children's policies, which earns her some money. Still she is in dire straits financially. Her sisters say that Francie must work, but Katie wants her to finish school. She prays to God and the Virgin Mary without an answer before praying to Johnny.
McGarrity, who owns the saloon Johnny frequented, has much money and misses Johnny dearly. He lived out his dreams vicariously through Johnny. He wished for a family like Johnny's, and used to pretend Johnny's wife and kids were his own. His wife Mae is a saloon lady, not someone he can have meaningful conversation with. McGarrity comes over to the Nolan's house to offer Francie and Neeley after-school jobs, hoping that they will talk to him the way Johnny used to do. He ends up talking to Katie for a long time about the Johnny he knew and loved. Francie and Neeley end up working hard for McGarrity but do not talk to him the way he wishes.
Katie and Francie go to visit Mary Rommely who lives with Sissy now. Sissy has grown stouter and no longer wears perfume. On the way home, Francie laughs for the first time since Johnny died.
Francie and Neeley are confirmed, and Francie takes her mother's name. Francie is writing a novel to prove to her teacher she can write about beautiful things. Ever since Johnny died, she has gotten poor scores on her compositions because of their "ugly" subjects. Miss Garnder believes Francie to be a good writer, but thinks she should write about beautiful things. By beautiful, the teacher really means positive and flowery; poverty and drunkenness are considered ugly and dull subjects. The teacher cannot use Francie's play at graduation and tells Francie to go home and burn all her "sordid" compositions.
Francie's novel tells of a rich girl who lives in a beautiful house and bosses around her cooks. Francie daydreams a conversation in which she shows Miss Garnder the novel and the teacher is overcome with praise. But as Francie continues writing, she realizes the novel and all of her "A" compositions are written about things she knows nothing about. She burns them all, keeping only the compositions that earned her poor marks.