14-year-old Polly Milton travels to Boston to visit her cousins of the prosperous Shaw family. Polly has an irrisistible innocence and sincerity that appeal to her aunt and uncle, but their children – Fanny, Maud, and Tom – are embarrassed by her unspoiled cheerfulness and modesty. Her sensitivity is challenged by their snobbery; her gentleness is enchanting; she encourages the best of others. She knows how to have fun and flourish in adversity; her honesty is infectious and leaves everyone sure of her quiet influence. Five or six years later she returns to the city as a young woman to earn her living as a music teacher. But the affluent Shaws are on the brink of bankruptcy, and Polly guides them to the realization that a wholesome family life is the only thing they will ever need, not money or decoration. Sometimes her pride is bruised, but she follows her personal directive to be as good as possible, work hard, and not surrender to temptation. Alcott's simple rules show Polly's willingness to help where help is needed and not give up being true to herself.