Seven-year-old Ailsa Dunn's Ma is prettier than all the other mothers, her Da is the most handsome man in the world. They're made for each other... But the grown-up world is more complicated than that, and when alcohol intrudes, violence becomes the norm and unpredictability reigns - and the ground shifts beneath Ailsa's small feet. Ailsa and her big sister Morag - both Ailsa's cruellest tormentor and her staunchest defender - are removed from the care of their adored parents and enrolled at McGregor's Orphan Homes, a world away from their Wallace Street tenement. Here, the rules are strict: there are chores, there are curfews, the ever-present threat of Auntie Vera and bitter resignation as visits from Ma and Da become fewer and further between.