A lonely, 10-year-old girl named Opal moves to a trailer park in a small Florida town with her father, an introverted preacher. Opal keeps hoping that her mother, who left years ago, will return. When Opal finds a stray dog in a grocery store, she rescues him and names him Winn-Dixie after the store. It is partly through the dog’s comical exploits that she meets a curious assortment of characters, including two eccentric old ladies.
Franny Block, the town librarian, is a frail but fabulous storyteller. Gloria Dump has wrinkled brown skin, poor eyesight and false teeth, yet Opal can tell right away that she’s not a witch as two local boys say. Gloria is a fine listener and a recovering alcoholic. Her backyard has a “mistake tree” hung with empty liquor bottles to remind her never to touch anything stronger than coffee.
Gleaming threads of wisdom are woven into this poignant tapestry, many spoken by Gloria Dump: “There ain’t no way you can hold on to something that wants to go, you understand? You can only love what you got while you got it.”
Eventually Opal learns that the sweetness and sadness of life are often intermingled. Because of Winn-Dixie—or maybe because of Gloria’s earthy wisdom and Opal’s growing perceptiveness—Opal begins to accept her family life for what it is, and this diverse collection of people starts to weave together into a supportive community.