The novel Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns is a story from a 14 year-old boy's point of view in 1906 in the South Georgia town of Cold Sassy. The book begins with Grandpa Blakeslee announcing to his daughters, Mary Willis and Loma, that he is getting married to Miss Love Simpson. It has only been 3 weeks since his wife, Miss Mattie Lou, passed away. A motive running throughout the book is that Miss Mattie Lou is not yet "cold in her grave." Grandpa's engagement scandalizes the town, which is not hard to do in Cold Sassy. That day Will Tweedy goes fishing and is up on the train trestle with his dog, T.R. The train is heading his way and Will falls between the tracks and is ran over. Queenie is the Tweedy's cook and her husband, Loomis is the one who takes Will home, and saves T.R.
on the trestle. Will survives, and while the neighbors are crowed inside Will's house once he is home, grandpa and Miss Love return from Jefferson, where they got married. Miss Love moves in with Grandpa and soon Mr. McAllister comes by to marry her. She tells him to leave, and even though that's the end of it, the town has more to talk about.
Will goes back to describe his Granny's death, and how much she meant to Grandpa because the whole town thought he had been sweet on Miss Love since he met her 2 years before. Will's little sister, Mary Toy, is with Cousin Temp the first half of the book because the hair dye for Granny's funeral turned her red hair purple.
Will decides to go on the camping trip he and his friend Blueford Jackson had planned before he died of Lockjaw. Will went with his friends Pink, Smiley, and Dunsen. On their way back, they picked up Mr. Beautiful, a horse for Miss Love to ride. Will's parents, Mary Willis and Hoyt Tweedy decided to go to New York for Grandpa's store. But, grandpa had promised Miss Love she could use the extra boat ticket. She and grandpa ended up going. But, before they left Hoyt bought a new red Cadillac, the first in the town. While they were gone, Will was driving the car and saw Lightfoot Mclendon, a millgirl from his school. They took a ride to the cemetery where Miss Alice Anne caught them kissing. When Grandpa got back he told Will he bought a Pierce and would now sell them at the store. When Miss Love, Will, and Grandpa went for a Picnic in the new Pierce, Will saw them kiss. Miss Love had originally married Grandpa only for the house and to have kinfolk. The car's radiator got a hole in it so they had to stay in a small town over night. Will over heard a conversation between Miss Love and Grandpa that made him suspect she was more than a housekeeper. Grandpa told her he liked her since he first saw her. That's when Miss Love told him that her dad raped her many years ago.
Once home Mr. Crummy is forced to rename his hotel the Blakeslee Hotel. Then Loma put on a play at the school and Will and his friends let rats loose in the middle of it. Soon after, Campbell Williams, Loma's husband shot himself. Grandpa gave him a nice funeral, even though Camp committed suicide.
Later, Grandpa's store is held up and he gets beat up by the two robbers. Will listens in on a conversation between Miss Love and Grandpa in his bedroom afterwards. That's when Will hears Miss Love tell grandpa that she loves him.
Soon after, Grandpa gets pneumonia, and is still badly hurt from the store's robbery. Miss Love tells Will she's going to have a baby, but Grandpa is dying and doesn't hear her when she tries to tell him before he dies. Then Grandpa dies and when Hoyt reads his will, grandpa insists on being buried in a coffin box and not done up to look alive. The family was to put "Dead, not Sleeping" on the headstone and have a party, not a sad time of mourning. The family does as he says. Miss Love tells Will that he is so much like Rucker, that by knowing him, her baby will have known his father.
One month after Grandpa dies, the U.S. Post office renames Cold Sassy making it Progressive City. The next spring, the railroads are to be widened and the Cold Sassy tree is chopped up. The last paragraph is Will saying how he still has part of that root, in a box, along with his journal, tobacco tags, the write-up in the Atlanta paper when he got run over by the train, a photograph of him, Miss Love, and Grandpa in the Pierce, his Ag college Diploma from the University, and the Buckeye that Lightfoot gave him. On his 15th birthday, Lightfoot told Will she was going to marry Hosie Roach, who he hated.