At seventeen, Veronica “Ronnie” Miller (Miley Cyrus) remains as rebellious as she was the day after her parents’ ugly divorce and father’s subsequent relocation to Georgia three years ago. Once a classical piano child prodigy under the tutelage of her father, Steve Miller (Greg Kinnear), Ronnie now rejects the instrument and has not spoken to her father since he left. While Juilliard School has been interested in her since she was young, Ronnie refuses to attend.
Now, Steve is given the chance to reconnect with his estranged daughter when her mother, Kim (Kelly Preston) sends the rebellious teen and her younger brother, Jonah (Bobby Coleman), to spend the summer with him. Steve, a former Juilliard School professor and concert pianist, now lives a quiet life in Tybee Island, the small Georgia beach town where he grew up, working on a stained glass window for the local church to replace the one the church lost in a fire. According to the locals, Steve had set fire to the church one night.
Upon arrival, Ronnie is miserable, hostile and defensive toward all those around her, including handsome, popular Will Blakelee (Liam Hemsworth) whose introduction is crashing into her during a volleyball match, spilling Ronnie’s strawberry shake on her. She shrugs him off and meets Blaze, an outcast who lives with her boyfriend Marcus. While at a beach campfire, Marcus hits on Ronnie and Blaze mistakes this for Ronnie flirting with him. Angered by this, Blaze sets Ronnie up by placing a bracelet in Ronnie’s bag. When Ronnie walks out she is promptly arrested, reminding her of an incident back at home. Later on, Ronnie discovers a Loggerhead Sea Turtle nest at the beach by her house and while protecting it, she meets Will again on his volunteer work for the aquarium. After a night of staying up to defend the turtles with Will, she discovers he is deeper than she believed.