In early March, there is a series of intense rainstorms. It has not rained in six years in southern California, and the storm feels like a miracle.
But on the heels of this wonderful event comes terrible news: little Amy Dunn is dead. Someone shot her at the metal gate leading into the neighborhood; it's not clear if she was caught in crossfire that penetrated the heavy gate, or if someone outside lured her there and then killed her. Lauren is devastated by her death and her hatred of the neighborhood increases. She compares it to an island surrounded by sharks.
Lauren confides in her friend Joanne that she wants to start making a backup plan to protect herself and her family if the walls fall. All across the country there is unrest and violence; there's cholera in Mississippi and Louisiana, and measles in New York. There's also a frightening new drug that makes people want to set fires.
Lauren knows that someday the falls will fail and all the violence that's been kept at bay will consume them. Joanne suggests that maybe the new President Donner will bring things back to the way they once were, but Lauren is skeptical of this idea. She tells Joanne that they need to make emergency packs and prepare themselves to survive in the wilderness.
Joanne is skeptical and a little scared by Lauren's predictions, but she does borrow one of the books Lauren has on edible plants native to California.
Misunderstanding Lauren's message, Joanne tells her mother that Lauren is planning to run away; her mother then tells Lauren's father. Lauren's father angrily confronts her. She tries to explain how she is just preparing for the inevitable breakdown of society, but her father accuses her of panicking people. Her father tells her that it isn't up to her to find ways to protect people, but she urges him to at least consider telling people to make emergency packs that they can grab if they need to get out of the house fast. Lauren's father dismisses the idea and points out all the other things the neighborhood people are doing to defend themselves: conducting target practice, having the emergency bell, and so on. Lauren's father ends by telling her that it's time to show her the important things buried in the yard in sealed containers.
Joanne apologizes to Lauren, who accepts her friend's remorse; however, she doesn't know if she can ever trust her again.
Thieves sneak over the neighborhood wall and steal fruit from the citrus trees. Lauren's father organizes a nightly neighborhood patrol - based on the advice that Lauren gave. Lauren overhears her father and stepmother arguing that night. Cory is afraid for his safety during the neighborhood patrols - armed thieves could kill him. Lauren's father merely recites a verse from the Bible. Lauren looks up the quote, which refers to rightness of defending one's family.
The neighborhood watch is officially established, but not long afterwards, the thieves try to steal the rabbits owned by the Moss family. The men on watch fire their guns at the thieves, who drop the rabbits and run away. The watch also finds a dropped pistol - the thieves are carrying guns. This leads to another argument between Lauren's father and Cory, who doesn't know what will happen to her or the children if he is killed.
Lauren decides to name her new religion Earthseed, a name which reflects the way that plants can spread their seeds and grow anywhere, even in an island in the middle of the ocean. Though she hasn’t yet told anyone about her new religion, she thinks that someday there will be many people who follow Earthseed and that they will settle far away from this place.
Lauren has never had the sense that she is fictionalizing or making up any of her religion, but neither is she getting messages directly from God. She begins to gather all of the verses she has written in one volume.
Lauren makes a survival pack for herself and hides it in her room. She wants to include a gun in the pack and asks her father for one, but he says it would be like wrapping up a gift for a burglar. He denies her request.
Lauren has been around guns her whole life, as have her brothers. Greg is only ten and Ben is nine, but her thirteen-year-old brother Keith is a bit of a wildcard – he sometimes steals from Lauren. Lauren asks her father why they don’t leave and try to go up north, where there are more jobs and more water. Lauren’s father replies that his job at the college is quite stable, they own their home, and besides, people up north are very hostile to refugees.
According to news reports, a space mission has discovered planets that could potentially support life, a notion that fills Lauren with great excitement. She realizes that if it were possible to settle one of these worlds, the settlers would leave earth behind forever.
Tracy Dunn, Amy’s mother, has disappeared. There is a rumor that she went outside the gates, but no one knows for sure. Lauren turns sixteen, and writes that it is the destiny of Earthseed to take root among the stars. She doesn’t know how this will happen, given that President Donner is dismantling all of the space programs, but she hopes that it will come to pass anyway.
A neighborhood girl, Bianca Montoya, is revealed to be pregnant. She is only seventeen, and the father of her unborn child is twenty-three-year-old Jorge Iturbe. Though the news shocks the neighborhood, she will marry Jorge and start a family with him – even though they will have to share half a garage with another family in a very crowded house. Lauren is stunned that people can even think of having babies with the chaos going on in the world. Lauren loves her boyfriend Curtis Talcott, but she does not want to marry him and have children.
During target practice, Aura Moss sees a woman’s corpse and has a breakdown. She refuses to go outside the walls and participate in target practice, saying that it’s the job of men to protect women (Lauren thinks this is foolish and ironic, given how hard Aura’s father works her and her sisters around the house). Lauren’s brother Keith begs his father to be allowed to join the rest on target practice outings, but Lauren’s father refuses, saying he is too young.
One day, when the group returns from target practice, Lauren’s father discovers that Keith has taken Cory’s key to the neighborhood gate and snuck off.
Keith returns not long afterwards, bruised, bloodied, and without the key. He was attacked by five men, who beat him up and stole the key that opens the neighborhood gate. The men also stole his clothing, precious commodities in this difficult world.
The next day, Keith is forced to apologize in front of the whole community for his reckless actions. Keith feels no remorse for his actions, saying that he should be allowed more freedom, and besides, it wasn’t his fault that he was overpowered.
Keith is Cory’s favorite son, which may explain why he believes that he does not have to suffer any consequences for his actions.
Lauren’s parents give Keith a BB gun for his birthday, and then he takes off outside the gate again. He is gone for eighteen hours, a very long time to be alone in such a dangerous place. Lauren’s father searches for him and even calls the police, but there is no sign of the young man. Lauren hears her father and Cory arguing, and Cory angrily says that if it were his precious Lauren missing, he’d be more worried. Lauren is stunned – Cory is not her biological mother, but she always treated Lauren as her own child. Is this how she really feels?
Keith returns three days after he left with a clean new set of clothes and the BB gun. He refuses to say where he got his new outfit, so Lauren’s father beats him cruelly. Cory screams and tries to stop him, and Lauren’s other brothers weep. Lauren shares Keith’s pain through her hyperempathy, and eventually passes out.
Keith leaves again the next day with both Cory’s gun and her key, and then returns with a large wad of cash that he gives to Cory, and chocolate milk bars for his favorite brothers, Bennett and Gregory (he gives nothing to Marcus and Lauren, whom he hates). He makes sure to arrive when his father is not home. He says the money only for Cory, and that he has found a way to make more money in a day than his father can in a week.
Cory tries to make him stay, but he departs, promising to visit again and bring presents.
Lauren is not satisfied with the life of an ordinary person in her community. Bianca's pregnancy prompts a horrified realization for Lauren: she does not want to give birth to children in this suffocating fishbowl of a community, children who will have no chance for jobs or a good life. There is no place for people to go, and as more children are born, the neighborhood will just become more and more crowded - unless something happens to destroy it.
Lauren finally has a name for her collection of poetry, observations, and aphorisms: Earthseed. This references the title of the novel: as in the Biblical parable of the sower, in which a farmer is sowing seeds that sometimes shrivel up and sometimes bear fruit, Lauren too is sowing seed - Earthseed, in her case.
Lauren also realizes, when hearing the news about the Mars mission, that is is the destiny of humanity and Earthseed to take root among the stars. This grand statement, unusually for Lauren's belief system, is not explicitly justified, though certainly such a massive goal could unite humanity in a common cause. This is one of the classic science fiction elements of the novel.
Faced with his wife's insistent questioning as to why he wants to risk using violence, Lauren’s father quotes the Bible, specifically the Book of Nehemiah, Chapter 4, Verse 14, which states: “And I looked and rose and said unto the nobles, and to the rules, and to the rest of the people, be not afraid of them: remember the Lord which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives and your houses.” This literary reference explains how and why Lauren’s father (a reverend, a man who espouses peace) should resort to violence to defend his community. It also shapes Lauren's understanding of the necessity of preparing and defending oneself.
Keith, Lauren's brother, starts to become more important in Chapter 9. Keith is an ambivalent, sly, selfish character. Lauren describes him through metaphor: "Keith at 13 is a question mark. He wouldn't steal from Dad. He wouldn't dare. But he has stolen from me - only little things so far" (pg. 81). Keith has a number of bad traits, but Lauren is quick to point out that he hasn't done anything really awful so far. His future is yet unclear - he might absorb some of the integrity and goodness of his other family members, or he might fall prey to his worst impulses; thus, Lauren likens him to a question mark, a symbol of uncertainty.