Over the course of the novel, film legend Evelyn Hugo tells her life story to reporter Monique Grant. At the age of 79, with all her close family and ex-spouses dead, Evelyn is ready to reveal the true story of her life, which she has hidden from the public for decades. 

Monique is a struggling writer who has been trying to find success for over a decade. She’s in the middle of a separation from her husband, and wanting a distraction, wholeheartedly throws herself into researching Evelyn’s life for the interview. Evelyn offers Monique exclusive rights to Evelyn’s very valuable biography, and Monique has no idea why. The book is organized into chronological sections that follow Evelyn’s relationships with each of her seven husbands, punctuated by conversations between Monique and Evelyn during the interview for the biography. 

Evelyn grows up in a poor Cuban family in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan. Her mother dies when Evelyn is young, leaving her alone with her abusive father. Sharing her mother’s dream of becoming an actress, Evelyn uses her sex appeal to seduce and eventually marry Ernie Diaz, a neighbor boy who is heading to Hollywood. Evelyn quickly succeeds in connecting with Hollywood producers, including Harry Cameron at Sunset Studios, who becomes her lifelong best friend. She sleeps with a much-older producer to get her first role. For some time, she’s relegated to smaller parts because, as a Cuban woman, she does not fit the Hollywood mold of blonde leading ladies. To start starring in films, Evelyn dyes her hair blonde, loses her New York accent, stops speaking Spanish, and tells a false story about her past to the press. When Sunset advises her to start publicly dating other actors, she divorces Ernie and gets her first leading role. 

After dating a few Hollywood actors for the press coverage, Evelyn falls for Don Adler, a fellow up-and-coming actor. Don and Evelyn marry, but after a brief honeymoon period, he begins to physically abuse her. Evelyn is still in love with Don and can’t imagine leaving him, so she hides the abuse and continues to gain success in Hollywood. When the studio starts filming Little Women with Evelyn in the lead role of Jo, Evelyn meets the actress Celia St. James. Though Evelyn is jealous of Celia’s keen acting ability at first, the two quickly become friends. After Celia wins an Oscar, their jealous co-star tells Evelyn that Celia is a lesbian and that Don is cheating on Evelyn. When Evelyn realizes she cares more about Celia than Don, the two women kiss and Evelyn leaves Don. Don files for a divorce and has the studio blacklist Evelyn. Her career flounders as her romantic relationship with Celia begins. Monique asks Evelyn who the love of her life is, and she admits that it wasn’t any of her seven husbands—it was Celia. 

To get her career back, Evelyn stars in a risqué and successful French New Wave film by a director named Max Girard. Worried that she and Celia will be outed in the press, Evelyn seduces, marries, and divorces rockstar Mick Riva to create a distracting scandal in the press. Evelyn gets pregnant and has an abortion, and Celia, furious, leaves her. Evelyn and Celia don’t speak for five years. Meanwhile in the present, Monique’s estranged husband shows up at her house. Yearning for a love like Evelyn and Celia’s, Monique says goodbye to her husband. Back in the past, Evelyn marries Rex North, her co-star in Anna Karenina, to boost ticket sales. The two have a lucrative false marriage for a few years which results in a major three-picture deal. When Rex falls in love with someone else, the two create a false cheating scandal for the media. Harry poses as Evelyn’s lover, and they decide to get married. 

Evelyn and Celia see each other at the Academy Awards and get back together. For a few years, Evelyn, Celia, Harry, and John, who is Celia’s fake husband and Harry’s lover, live together in peace with each couple serving as the beard for the other. Evelyn and Harry have a daughter, Connor, and experience a deep platonic love for each other. When Evelyn shoots a risqué love scene with her ex-husband, Celia feels betrayed and leaves Evelyn again. John dies of a heart attack, and to help Harry recover from his grief, Evelyn gets him involved in a film directed by Max. After they all win Oscars for the film, Max reveals he’s loved Evelyn for years and proposes. Evelyn divorces Harry and marries Max only to discover that Max is more interested in the idea of Evelyn than the person Evelyn truly is. She is heartbroken. 

Soon, Celia and Evelyn are reunited and agree to give their relationship another try. However, Celia is dying of emphysema and has less than a decade to live. Celia wants to live her final years out in Spain. Harry doesn’t want Evelyn to move Connor to Spain, but he reconsiders when he falls in love with another man. Harry and the man get into a car wreck, and the man dies. Evelyn has her driver put his body in the driver’s seat to cover up that Harry was driving drunk, and Harry dies later in the hospital. Evelyn reveals to Monique that the man who died in the crash was her father. Though Monique is furious at Evelyn that she grew up believing a lie about her father’s death, she moves toward forgiving her. Monique discovers that Evelyn is dying of breast cancer. Monique understands that Evelyn is going to kill herself so that she may die with dignity. The book ends with an article about Evelyn by Monique announcing her biography and revealing that Evelyn was bisexual.