It's the winter of 1935 and Max Brown is newly arrived in Willowgreen, Saskatchewan - a rural Canadian prairie town - on his first teaching job in a one room schoolhouse. He quickly realizes that this is not his dream situation: the winter is harsher than he's ever experienced, he's living in the basement of the school, the older of his students treat him poorly and his wages are paltry if and when he ever does get paid. He also feels physically and emotionally isolated. There, he bonds primarily with two townsfolk. Harris Montgomery sees Max as an obvious choice to espouse the politics of socialism. And Alice Field sees in Max a person like herself: being a British war bride, she is an alien in a harsh environment. Alice is in an unsatisfying marriage and turns to Max for emotional support. As Max goes through his first year in Willowgreen, he learns to understand life in a rural prairie town, both from the viewpoint of his students and for his own benefit.