Andrew Dayton, age 18, is a smart but invisible high-school senior in small-town Barstow, CA. Andrew lives with his lonely, somewhat irresponsible single mother, Sandra. While Sandra works as a waitress, Andrew works after school at a bookstore to help bring in money and their strong bond has carried them through hard times. Despite clearly being college material -- a quality noted and impressed on him by his science teacher, Mr. Johns -- Andrew seems to be slipping into the inertia of Barstow, his hourly job and his sense of family responsibility.
Although Andrew used to dream of college, and even completed an application, his fear of the unknown and ties to home prevented him from actually mailing it in. Mr. Johns' aggressively challenges Andrew’s decision to delay college, painting a bleak image of what Andrew’s life will be like if he doesn’t leave Barstow. This angers Andrew because he feels needed in Barstow, but deep down he fears Mr. John’s is right.
In the midst of this confusing time, Andrew meets newcomer Jenny and begins his first real dating experience. Discovering the relationship, Sandra becomes increasingly possessive and Andrew struggles to define himself. Andrew’s main support comes from his best friend Carlos who shares Andrew’s dreams of college and encourages him to go out and achieve more than Barstow will ever offer. Carlos surprises Andrew with the news that Andrew has been accepted to college because Carlos sent in the application without Andrew knowing.
Stunned by both disbelief and gratitude, Andrew goes to tell Sandra about college, but finds her drowning in her own misery at the betrayal by her latest boyfriend. Desperately relying on Andrew more than ever, Sandra’s need and self-absorption overshadow Andrew’s news. Shifting again into his familiar caretaker role, Andrew coaxes Sandra to bed.
While Sandra sleeps, Andrew contemplates, weighing those who love and need him in Barstow against the possibilities of life in the larger world. Ultimately, Andrew realizes he must make his choice and either commit to Barstow, or move on.