In the impoverished area of Nechells in Birmingham in the 1930s, young Emma Brown's life is turned upside down when her mother, Cynthia, has another baby.
Emma has always been a happy-go-lucky child, content as long as things were all right at home with her parents, and her brother and sister. But when the baby is born, Cynthia doesn't seem able to cope, and even her lifelong friend and neighbour, Dot, can't seem to get through to her. Cynthia's husband, Bob, tries to do his best, but when he feels he's losing the wife he loves so much he turns to drink. Poor Emma can't seem to keep up with looking after the household, and soon it seems that the only thing to do is for Cynthia to go and stay with her tyrannical older sister across the city.
Life gets even tougher for Emma with her mother away, and she decides it's time to travel across Birmingham and bring her mother home. But the woman she discovers is very different to the mother she remembers . . .