In 19th century China, when women had their feet bound, they spent their lives in seclusion with only a single window from which to see. Illiterate and isolated, they were not expected to think, be creative, or have emotions. But in one remote county, women developed their own secret code, nu shu - "women's writing" - the only gender-based written language to have been found in the world. Some girls were paired as "old-sames" in emotional matches that lasted throughout their lives. They painted letters on fans, embroidered messages on handkerchiefs, and composed stories, thereby reaching out of their windows to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. An old woman tells of her relationship with her "old-same," their arranged marriages, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood-until a terrible misunderstanding written on their secret fan threatens to tear them apart.