Set in the American South, the action in the novella begins on the last Friday in August 1944. On Sunday, Frankie Addams's brother Jarvis is getting married to Janice Evans. This fact unnerves the pubescent Frankie. She hangs around the house feeling trapped, isolated and scared. Frankie is twelve years old, and is in the middle of a growth spurt and is stuck somewhere between the childhood of her six-year-old cousin John Henry West and the older teenagers who will not play with her.
On Friday evening, Frankie plays cards with John Henry and with her African- American housekeeper, Berenice Sadie Brown. Frankie ruminates over the upcoming wedding. She has trouble fathoming what it means to get married. Berenice insightfully states that Frankie is simply jealous.
Frankie invites John Henry to sleep over, claiming that he seems frightened. The two undress with their backs to each other and climb into bed together. Frankie has wanted to sleep in the same bed with someone all summer. As we later learn, she used to sleep next to her father, but he evicted her at the beginning of the summer, saying she was too old.
The following morning, Saturday, John Henry, Berenice and Frankie sit on the front porch and talk about Christmas. Then, very subtlely, McCullers skips over the entire day and begins describing a card game between the three of them that takes place at 5:45 PM. At one point, John Henry refuses to play a jack of spades next to the queen of spades and Frankie becomes angry that he doesn't know the rules. Later, Frankie gives John Henry one of her dolls to keep, as if passing on her youth.
McCullers writes that "This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member." Meaning that she was excluded from all other groups of humans. Frankie dreams of running away from her surroundings in hopes of a better life. She remembers the House of the Freaks at the local fair and begins to wonder if she will become one of them, should she continue to grow so rapidly. At the end of Part One, Frankie realizes that Jarvis and Janice are the only two people with whom she is a part of a collected group. She thinks of changing her name to F. Jasmine, so as to also have a name beginning with J A.
Frankie does not appear to know about sex, yet she fears it. During the summer, in addition to stealing from Sears and shooting her father's gun in a vacant lot, she "committed a queer sin" with her friend Barney MacKean in his garage. Whatever it is she did causes her great remorse and hatred toward Barney. We also learn of a time when she witnessed a couple, Mr. and Mrs. Marlowe, who were boarding in her house, doing what we can safely assume was having sex. However, a horrified Frankie thought Mrs. Marlowe was "having a fit." Further, her tomcat recently ran away and Frankie was surprised and confused when Berenice said he went to look for a female.
The book is set toward the end of World War II. For the first time in her life, Frankie begins to listen to the radio reports that play all day long in the house. She tries to comprehend the world outside her own back yard. After realizing the importance of helping out, she once offered to give blood to the Red Cross to help out with the war, but was rejected because of her age.
The narrative skips over Jarvis and Janice's Saturday afternoon visit. So it is recapitulated later that day when Frankie, concerned about her appearance and demeanor, asks Berenice to appraise how well Frankie behaved around the couple. Berenice says that Frankie had simply done nothing in their presence. Then Berenice taunts Frankie for having a crush, though she does not specify on whom. Enraged, Frankie throws a knife at Berenice and misses.
The narrative in this section tries to communicate to the reader how it feels for Frankie to be in the throes of adolescence. McCullers accomplishes this without actually going inside Frankie's head. Instead, she describes her from the outside in, with an objectivity and lack of bias that allows the reader to see Frankie's naïveté and judge it for themselves. For example, when Frankie commits a "queer sin" with Barney MacKean, McCullers informs us that this vaguely described event brought forth Frankie's wrath against Barney. McCullers asks us to psychoanalyze Frankie here. We are to understand that, unconsciously, Frankie is not really mad at Barney, but afraid of what they did and possibly feeling guilty for whatever part she may have played in the situation.
McCullers uses a certain color palette with subtle clues that suggest Frankie's deep, unconscious fears about adolescence. In short, her use of color allows McCullers to communicate Frankie's fear of menstruation to the reader without ever even mentioning the subject. With Frankie's naïveté about sex, we assume that she does not know what a period is, especially considering the fact that she does not have a mother. So it makes even more sense that McCullers would keep the subject in the shadows of the motifs she weaves into the text. In the first sentence of the novella, McCullers frames the action of the story within "that green and crazy summer." First of all, green is a metaphor for spring, or the freshness of youth, or Frankie's youth. Second of all, in the end of the story, Frankie interprets a near-sexual experience with the Soldier as crazy. So with that in mind, the time period becomes personified by burgeoning youth and sex. McCullers repeatedly describes the vivid colors in the landscape around Frankie. She repeatedly reminds us of eye color. For example, Frankie has gray eyes and Berenice has one blue and one brown. But she almost never uses the color red. This seems to imply a certain fear of the color, and of menstruation. Only when we hear of Frankie's attempts to give blood do we hear that Frankie predicted the doctors would say that she has "the reddest and the strongest blood." This points to her awareness of her own blood and of her knowledge that it carries with it a certain imminent force. The color eventually becomes sexual when she announces to the redheaded soldier that red is her favorite color.
This section introduces John Henry as a foil for Frankie. While she is hysterical and on edge, he is cool, calm, and collected. While she attempts to overreach herself into the realm of adulthood, he serves as a counter-balance, tying her back to early childhood. After all, it is quite ironic that someone who wishes so much to be an adult not only spends most of her time with a six- year-old, but also coerces him to spend the night so she will not feel lonely. At least we assume that that was her real reason for convincing John Henry to sleep over, and not because she really thought he was frightened. Because Frankie is merely projecting her own fears onto John Henry. She knows that she still has childhood fears. To reject those fears and seem more grown up, she passes them on to someone dramatically younger. She also passes on her youth to him when she gives him the doll—as if to say "here, you be the child, I'm through with that part of my life."