With the start of summer, 13-year-old Carin prepares for her annual journey from her home in Davenport, Iowa to Reno, Nevada where she will spend several months with her father. Although she is always sad to be away from her mother for that long of time, Carin looks forward to hopping on an airplane and winging her way to her father’s house.
However, this summer will prove to be different. Instead of flying out to Reno, she will be hitching a ride with her sister, (“make that half sister”) Hope, who has an important job interview there. 23-year-old Hope is reckless, irresponsible, and bossy, all of which irritates her straight-lased step-sister. “I loved her, of course,” admits Carin, “but I didn’t always like her much.” Now for five whole days, she would have to be stuck in a cramped, beat-up old car with Hope, wondering if they will make it to Nevada alive.
The trip doesn’t start out promising when after the first day of driving, the two aren’t even able to leave Iowa. It’s no wonder, considering that Hope stops off to do her laundry, pays a lengthy visit to a music store, and finally crashes a school reunion picnic to get some free food. When Hope finally pulls off the road to catch a few winks, the frustrated Carin turns her attention to a sign that Hope had taped to one of the windows. The sign said “Westward Ho!,” but to reflect her angry feelings, Carin pulls it down and changes it to read: “West with Hopeless.”
Yet, as the trip progresses, something changes between Carin and Hope. As a result of the many adventures they face, such as car break-downs, the meeting of an unsuccessful cat killer, and a half-mannequin named Mildred, the sisters begin to see each other in a new light, and to appreciate each other’s differences. Yet is this change of heart enough to get them safely and soundly to Reno? More importantly, will Hope arrive in time to make her job interview, or will the whole trip be…hopeless?