Sugar Town is a place that conceals a shameful deed. More than a decade ago, a series of terrible crimes was committed against a single family and, through resolute inaction, all were left unresolved. Among the very few people in town who know nothing of the crimes are, ironically, the victims. The story's thirteen year old narrator, Ruth, knows only that, once upon a time, her grandmother suffered a violent and fatal attack in her home, her mother suicided and her father, a minister, abandoned his Australian home and family to start a mission in New Guinea.
What remains of her family is herself, her piously intense 24 year old sister who suffers from repressed memory syndrome and her eleven year old brother who, with recently diagnosed late-onset occipital epilepsy, has become prone to periodic hallucinations.
When Ruth discovers letters that hint at a community-wide deception, she begins to ask questions, in the process drawing strange allies to her. One is an old man who, though a peripheral witness to the original crimes, now sees the world through an alcoholic fug. Another is an eccentric young woman, an 'outsider', whose presence in the rural town is in itself a mystery.
As their questions begin to bite, new crimes are committed, apparently in defence of past decisions; but consciences are prodded as well, and the townsfolk begin a painful process of self-disclosure. Only then is it found that some truths really are too painful or too extraordinary to be spoken.