Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese is sent to live with her aunt Bertha and uncle Gus after CPS steps in and takes both of the girls. Charlie's sister gets to stay with her friend while Charlie has no choice but to stay with her aunt and uncle. Charlies struggle with her hot temper and has to learn to adjust in her new town.
Every day Charlie makes a wish to return home. She moves to this new town in Colby, NC. On her first day of school, she gets assigned a backpack buddy named Howard who has an up-down walk.
On the bus Charlie sits by herself then Howard jumps on and sits right next to her. He tells her that he knows her aunt and uncle and that she should like it there because they are good people.
Charlie struggles to adjust even though aunt Bertha tries her best to make Charlie feel comfortable. She finds a stray down and names him Wishbone. She liked the fact that they both have things in common such as being "strays". Howard was also a good friend, he saw the good in every situation.
Jackie her sister called every now and then and checked on her. Scrappy her dad wrote her also from jail. The CPS lady often made appearances as well. Uncle Gus taught her how to fish and aunt Bertha taught her how to crochet. Her mom Carla was getting better and getting back on her feet which made Charlie scared. Her mother was ready for her to come back to live with her but Charlie started to realize was unsure. She struggled between staying and going back home.
In the end, Charlie promised to try the see the good in things like Jackie and Howard. Bertha called cps and asked them to reevaluate Charlie coming home because she didn't think her mom had changed. After a few days, cps called back and said, Charlie, "Butterbean" could stay for good. In the end Chalires wish came true.