Twelve-year-old James (Trevor Morgan) is haunted by the car crash that claimed his mother's life two years earlier. Estranged from his father (Ray Liotta) and nurturing a deep hatred of his stepmother (Catherine McCormack), James is none too pleased about the prospect of spending his summer vacation at their Maine beach house. With no one his own age for company, he spends his time exploring the surrounding beaches. One day, while playing in the dunes, James accidentally breaks a fence belonging to Maddy Bennett (Vanessa Redgrave), a cranky old woman with a reputation for loony behavior. James embarks on a mission to fix the fence, and as he works, he and Maddy form a deep friendship. But when the boy's family learns of the friendship, they wrongfully blame Maddy for their own problems, prompting Maddy to react in a manner that profoundly affects the entire family.