Rebecca is a nurse in Vietnam during the war. As the book opens, she is dealing with the recent death of two of her good friends, and the physical injuries she received at the same time as their deaths. At the beginning of the book, the circumstances of these deaths, and how Rebecca was injured, are unclear. Not only are two of her good friends dead, but her best friend in Vietnam has recently completed her tour and gone home, she hasn't seen her brother in several years since he went to Canada in lieu of being drafted, and her boyfriend/fiance was killed in the war. She feels extremely isolated and is very angry and defensive about it.
At the same time, she has to cope with the fact that she is working as an emergency room nurse in the middle of a war zone. She and her fellow nurses work around the clock in a stream of constant, horrifying casualties. The doctors are arrogant and condescending, and Rebecca has a particular aversion to them because of her strained relationship with her father, who is also a doctor. Rebecca is extremely intelligent and an exceptionally good nurse, and most people generally agree that she would be better off as a doctor than a nurse, but her father strongly disapproves of her attending medical school.
There are two things that keep Rebecca going. One is her very challenging and complicated relationship with Major Doyle, the Chief Nurse at her hospital. The other is her somewhat undefined relationship with Mike, an enlisted soldier who she met in the jungle after she was injured. He seems to have fallen in love with her in the brief time that they met and constantly writes her letters. Despite her intentions, Rebecca has fallen in love with Mike as well.
Because Rebecca's is the hospital for Mike's area of operations, she constantly worries that he will be brought in to her emergency room--or worse, that he will be moved to a different area, be killed, and she will never know about it. Then one day, her worst fear comes true--Mike is brought in, seriously injured.
After Mike's injury--he stepped on a mine and has to have a leg amputated--he withdraws from Rebecca. She can't understand why and is very upset when he is sent back to the States. He doesn't write to her, and she is afraid that she will never hear from him again.
After finishing her tour, Rebecca returns home. Her family has been seriously strained ever since her brother went to Canada and her boyfriend--who was also her brother Doug's best friend--died. But the relationship between Rebecca and her father was difficult even before that because Rebecca wanted to be a doctor and follow in his footsteps, and he discouraged her. Both Rebecca and her mother seem to have developed serious drinking problems, while her father withdraws into his work. Her parents want to help Rebecca, but don't know how. Rebecca retreats into herself, alcohol, and a serious depression, spending all of her time alone drinking and thinking about Mike, her brother, her boyfriend, and her friends who died.
Finally, not knowing what else to do, Rebecca's parents suggest that she go to medical school, and volunteer to pay for it. Rebecca reveals that she doesn't think she deserves to go--she blames herself for all of the terrible things that have happened to her friends and family. She sets out to drive across country--from Boston, where she lives, to Colorado, where she hopes she will be able to find Mike.
She does manage to find Mike, but initially he is unwilling to talk to her. He has also been mired in a depression and seems to be descending into alcoholism. Through the persuasion of his family, however, eventually Mike and Rebecca begin to communicate, and each is able to help the other absolve themselves of the blame they've been putting on themselves for the deaths, injuries, and other harm they've inflicted on people around them. Finally, they decide that Mike will return to Boston with Rebecca, where she hopes to attend medical school.
This synopsis report prepared by Heather B.