Dressmaker Elizabeth Grant always tells her daughter Melinda, that Melinda's father is dead, but Melinda knows that she is illegitimate and that her father is alive, because of the small town's gossip, and because her mother is still waiting for letters that never come. At her high School Melinda is an outcast, but she tells her sensitive mother that she is popular, and they both try to keep up the impression of an intact world.
Will Henderson is a new boy at High School. His father Ed Henderson is a air-conditioning salesman. For business reasons he wants Will to befriend Bruce Mitchell and Polly Fisher, the popular children of the small town's 'big wheels'. But Will can not push himself on them, instead he befriends outcast Melinda.
It is Wills support that encourages Melinda to try out for the part of Emily in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town", which is to be performed at High School. When she deservedly gets the part instead of Polly Fisher, Melinda's popularity rises, but Polly is furious. As Will rehearses with Melinda, their friendship turns to love.
On parents night at the High School, Polly tries to blackmail Melinda to resign from the play. When Melinda refuses, Polly tells everybody that Will almost hit her and that she had seen him with Melinda undressed. Bruce starts and loses a brutal fight with Will. After the fight Will pursues Melinda, who ran away. Melinda's horrified mother follows them uphill to the very bandstand where she had been seduced by Melinda's father. When she finds Melinda and Will kissing she collapses, as she thinks that what happened to her now happened to her daughter. But that is not true. Mother and daughter have a long overdue heart-to-heart talk. Will assures his love for Melinda and that he will come back for Melinda, as the Hendersons now leave the town. From now on Elizabeth Grant is not waiting for letters any more, but Melinda is, and they sure come !
This drama about illegitimacy, grand delusion, teenage love, and the possible adversity of life in a small American town had been adapted from a successful off-Broadway play. The drama is written, directed and acted very well and with great psychological understanding, so that one even has sympathy for the 'evil' characters.
"The Restless Years" was Sandra Dee's second movie and her first leading role, and its big success made her a star. In the very demanding role of Melinda Grant Sandra Dee is very charming, vulnerable and powerful, and also very credible and sensitive. John Saxon also is very good, and they both starred together again that same year in the film "The Reluctant Debutante".