It’s the 1960s – but things are far from swinging in provincial Devonshire.
Society still insisted that women, even wage-earners, provide a male guarantor simply to rent a television set; where a married woman's income is treated as belonging to her husband and there is no protection in law from domestic violence.
Very few Oxford and Cambridge colleges are prepared to admit women, and a significant number of people, among them Jess's alcoholic father, Jack, consider that education is wasted on a girl.
Young Jess struggles with the double standard that allows boys to earn threepence an hour more than girls, and where daughters must be always available to assist with household chores while their brothers can please themselves.
Growing up in an atmosphere of mistrust and hypocrisy, Jess is shielded by her controlling and depressed mother Dotey from all knowledge of the outside world and denied the truth even about her own origins.
She shares a barricaded bedroom with Dotey, and longs to grow up and escape; but it seems to be taking such an awfully long time. Meanwhile, the pace of social change is quickening, even in sleepy market towns; abortion law reform, the decriminalisation of homosexuality, divorce law reform, the lowering of the age of majority from 21 to 18 - and then the Pill becomes available.
The 1970s finally bring equality of opportunity and Jess is among the first group of young women to benefit, but the changes come too late for Dotey.
This heart-breaking memoir touches on many of the areas of discrimination against women which existed within living memory but which to modern audiences sound like something from Victorian times. Older readers will readily empathise with Jess, while younger people may need to be reminded how recent were the changes now taken for granted, and how precious are these hard-won rights.