It's 1958 and Marlee Nisbett is attending junior high in Little Rock, Arkansas, one year after the Little Rock Nine. Marlee has always found it difficult to speak, but her best friend Sally McDaniels seems to do all the talking for her. While Marlee finds a way to manage her anxiety through reciting prime numbers, she is assigned a group project and will have to stand up in front of the entire class. Marlee's partner, a new student named Liz, is encouraging and quite determined to help Marlee speak. The two girls begin to meet at the local zoo to practice for their project and quickly become close friends.
Then one day Liz does not show up to school and Marlee's teacher announces that Liz will not be returning for the rest of the school year. Soon there are murmurs among classmates that Liz was actually attending the segregated junior high school despite not being white. Devastated, Marlee sets out to locate Liz in order to find out the truth and to bring back her new friend. As a result, Marlee soon becomes involved in the local movement of the Women's Emergency Committee to reopen the Little Rock schools.
Set amid a turbulent time in the struggle for integration, The Lions of Little Rock by author Kristin Levine is already on many top ten lists for the year.