The movie is set in Madison, Pennsylvania, in the summer of 1972. Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky) is a 11-year-old girl and a hypochondriac. Vada's father, Harry Sultenfuss (Dan Aykroyd), is an awkward widower who does not seem to understand his daughter, and as a result, constantly ignores her. His profession as a funeral director, in which the Sultenfuss' residence is also a funeral parlor, has led Vada to develop an obsession with death as well as disease. Vada also thinks that she killed her own mother, since her mother died giving birth to her. She regularly tends to her invalid grandmother (Ann Nelson), who suffers from Alzheimer's disease. Harry's brother Phil (Richard Masur), who lives nearby, also stops by frequently to help out the family.Vada is teased by other girls because her best friend, Thomas J. Sennett (Macaulay Culkin), is unpopular and a boy. Their summer adventures from first kiss to last farewell introduce Vada to the world of adolescence.Vada's summer begins well. She befriends Shelley Devoto (Jamie Lee Curtis), the new make-up artist at her father's funeral parlor, who provides her with some much needed guidance. She is also infatuated with her teacher, Mr. Bixler (Griffin Dunne), and steals some money from Shelley's trailer to attend a summer writing class that he is teaching.But before long, things start to fall apart. Her father and Shelley start dating and get engaged, she cannot bring herself to tell her father that she has experienced her first menstrual cycle, Thomas J. dies from an allergic reaction to bee stings while looking for Vada's mood ring in the woods, and she finds out that Mr. Bixler is engaged to someone else.Vada's grief, however, manages to mend the rift between her and her father, she learns that she didn't kill her mom during childbirth (since her father tells her that things like mothers dying in childbirth just happen), and by the end of the movie, Vada has not only managed to deal with her pain and grief, but has also overcome some of her previous issues as well.