A Yellow Raft in Blue Water is divided into three sections narrated by three different Native American women: Rayona, Christine, and Ida. Rayona’s narrative begins at the hospital, where she is playing cards with her mother, Christine, who drinks heavily and is frequently hospitalized. Rayona’s father, Elgin, arrives and argues with Christine. Rayona leaves for the parking lot and finds Christine trying to break into their car. Christine says she is going to crash the car so Rayona can collect the life insurance payment. Rayona forces her way into the car and she and her mother drive off. Christine decides to leave their home in Seattle and return to the reservation in Montana where she grew up. Christine and Rayona spend the night packing and leave the next day.The car breaks down a mile away from Christine’s mother’s house, and Christine and Rayona walk the rest of the way. Christine’s mother, Ida (whom they both call Aunt Ida), is not glad to see Christine. Christine runs off, leaving Rayona with Ida. Rayona does not enjoy the reservation. Aunt Ida is cold and distant, and the other children make fun of Rayona’s dark skin. The only place Rayona finds attention is at the local mission, where a priest named Father Tom persuades her to join the God Squad, a religious youth group.Father Tom invites Rayona to a religious jamboree. They arrive early, so they stop for a while at nearby Bearpaw Lake. The two go swimming, and Father Tom suddenly makes suggestive advances toward Rayona. Embarrassed, he decides they should just return to the reservation. Rayona wants to go back to Seattle, so Father Tom arranges a train ticket for her. Rayona intentionally misses the train and sleeps by the tracks. The next day Rayona meets a gas station attendant named Sky, whose wife, Evelyn, sets Rayona up with a custodial job at Bearpaw Lake State Park. Rayona stays with Sky and Evelyn for the whole summer and makes up a family history, telling Sky and Evelyn that her parents are away for the summer. When Evelyn discovers Rayona is lying, Rayona confesses her real story.Evelyn wants to take Rayona back to the reservation, but Rayona is confident that they will find her mother at a nearby rodeo. Rayona runs into Foxy Cree, one of the kids from the reservation. Foxy is supposed to ride in the rodeo but is too drunk to do so, so he convinces Rayona to ride in his place.