Roy Eberhardt is the new kid in school, and feeling all of the hard knocks that come with it. Since moving from the beautifully rugged mountains of Bozeman Montana to the depressingly flat town of Coconut Cove, Roy has felt unwanted and out of place. To add to his troubles, he’s attracted the attention of the school bully, Dana Matherson. On one occasion when Dana has forced his face up against the window of the bus, Roy sees a barefoot boy running away from the bus stop. Curious, he asks about the boy around the school that day, but no one seems to know who he is.
A few days later, Roy sees the boy again, and decides to run after him. Dana grabs Roy and chokes him, but Roy punches him and runs after the boy, before he runs onto a golf green and is knocked out by one of the balls. Upon his return to school, he’s confronted by a tough, redheaded girl who wants to know why he ran off. When he admits to chasing the boy, the redhead warns him to back off, which only peaks his curiosity. Roy continues to search for the boy, finding a makeshift camp under a bridge, but not much else. The read-headed girl (who Roy has learned is named Beatrice) steals his bike, forcing him to follow her to a nearby salvage yard. She reveals that the running boy is named Mullet Fingers, and he’s her stepbrother. He’s run away from home because he believes he will be sent juvenile hall should he return. Roy promises to back off and they part ways with an uneasy peace.
Later, Beatrice contacts Roy to ask him to help Mullet Fingers, who has been bitten by the guard dogs around the construction site of the future Mother Paula’s All American Pancake House. Mullet Fingers reveals he’s been vandalizing the site by pulling out their survey stakes and damaging their equipment, having grown frustrated by their lack of response to he earlier, more peaceful attempts. His leg is infected, and Roy and Beatrice get him to a hospital despite his protests, giving Roy’s name to the doctors. After the hospital contacts Roy’s parents and his deception is revealed, he refuses to give up his friend’s real identity. Roy, Mullet Fingers, and Beatrice become closer as time goes on, and Mullet Fingers eventually reveals to Roy that the Mother Paula’s site will be placed smack dab on top of a series of Burrowing Owl burrows, and his true goal is to protect them.
Meanwhile, the corporation attempting to build on the site is becoming increasingly frustrated with the vandalism and the delays that come with them. They decide to have the groundbreaking ceremony early, but Roy and Beatrice convince many of their classmates to attend in protest. Mullet Fingers also appears, buried in one of the owl’s burrows and holding a string attached to a bucket he claims is full of cottonmouth moccasins. This is revealed to be false, but as more and more people (including ‘Mother Paula’ herself) turn against the corporation, it becomes very clear they will not be moving forward with the construction. It is eventually revealed that they didn’t file the proper paperwork to be building over the owl burrows, so in an effort to save face, the company blames the whole thing on their incompetent VP and turns the land into a owl conservatory. The owls are safe, and Roy has made some friends and learned to appreciate the natural beauty of Florida.