Living one-half block from Traverse City State Hospital for the mentally ill during 1946 Post-World War II, keeps Janie Webster busy investigating nearly everyone. From runaway inmates to recovering patients, ten year old Janie is intent on rescuing them and others in her life. Sometimes events don’t work in her favor. Janie’s physically abused friend, Eddie struggles with multiple losses and Janie’s attempt to help fails.
Janie’s parent’s marriage is clearly disintegrating. Her father cannot find work due to his avoidance of the military during the ward. Additionally, while Janie’s parents disagree on the existence of God, Janie is torn between both. Her manic-depressive neighbor works hard to convince Janie that there is a one and only path to Heaven. When his wife disappears, Janie believes the husband is innocent of wrong doing and tries to intervene.
While things seem to be falling apart in Janie’s world, the situation improves in her friend Eddie’s. Steve, the church janitor, offers Eddie the opportunity to compete in a Soap Box Derby. Shy, physically abused, and socially awkward Eddie begins to blossom in his excitement of building his own derby car and working with Steve. Eddie shines in the competition but disappears the following day. Janie is obsessed with searching for him. She is certain her playmate did not run away, as his foster parents insist but has met with some type of tragedy. As the police investigate, Janie becomes more and more aware of police partiality as they label Eddie a troubled runaway. She comes to believe that the police see Eddie as a poor kid in foster care and it is convenient to dismiss his vanishing. She remains determined to find him.
Without permission Janie visits the vacant house of her recently deceased piano teacher in search of some answers about life. She sneaks in intent on finding her teacher’s ghost only to secretly stumble into another life lesson. While crouching in the darkened stairwell, Janie inadvertently overhears an adolescent student (older sister of a classmate) in a sexual liaison. Moments later Janie listens at the cruel abandonment of the same student by the intimate partner. This event occurs as Janie is beginning to confront her own body’s sexual development.
Janie regularly visits Emily a mental institution resident. Emily’s mental health improves whereby she is now able to walk outside the hospital and obtain part-time work. During this time Janie meets some local migrants and observes their culture. It is this experience that allows Janie to more fully understand social prejudice and the meaning of class status. Janie’s exposure to “isms” like the country club sign “Gentiles Only”, the term “wetback”, and anti-Catholic sentiment further Janie’s growing maturity and greater self-confidence. In this budding personal resolve, along with another local disappearance, that brings Janie to personally confront the police.
Janie Webster learns to rely on herself and her own strength. Incomplete Diary of Good and Evil examines her journey into adulthood.