Chapter 1 begins the novel in a setting where the main character, David, was a young boy before his teenage years. He confides with his older sister about his dreams and talks about a city before even knowing what a city is. He is then advised by his older sister, Mary, to keep his dreams private. David could not understand due to his age that the reason for keeping his dreams and thoughts low-profile is societal norms and the punishments that sharing his thoughts would possibly entail.
He then meets a girl by the name of Sophie while playing near a river. As they played together, Sophie’s left foot was stuck and in the midst of getting her foot out, David discovers that Sophie has six toes, which is against societal norms and would result in severe punishment if discovered by the rest of society. Sophie’s parents then have an agreement with David to keep the fact that Sophie is a Deviant from the rest of society (which is also why Mary told David to keep his dreams private lest the Waknuk society deems him a Deviant). David begins to understand why he has to keep Sophie’s abnormality a secret and starts questioning for himself why society even has such a norm against Deviants in the first place.
Chapter 2 begins by discussing David’s family tree and his grandfather, Elias Strorm and how his father, Joseph, married after Elias has passed away and married a submissive woman. Joseph is introduced as “a man of local consequence” and as a very religious individual together with his wife, Emily. Joseph is arguably like the religious leader in the society of Waknuk and his personal life is also filled with religious practices to climb back to God’s grace by taking a strong and tough stance against Deviants. This is hence, also an important aspect in David’s upbringing as a child.
Chapter 3 begins by telling us that David became good childhood friends with Sophie, especially when we see them discussing the lives of the Old People and each of them accounting for what their elders have told them. David, at one point, while doing a tedious task, says in the heat of the moment “I could have managed it all right if I’d had another hand”. As a result, David was punished by his father for such and made his family and a few other people go through a religious procession to seek forgiveness for David’s statement.
The impact of this on David is illustrated when he has a dream at the end of the Chapter where he remembers Sophie as a Deviant and dreams that she becomes helpless like a sheep led to the slaughter and it is his father that kills Sophie with a knife. David is somewhat relieved to realise at the end that what he saw was but a dream.
Chapter 4 begins by introducing Uncle Axel into the novel formally. He is portrayed as an individual who cares about David’s well-being, as can be seen when he similarly to Mary in Chapter 1, tells David sternly not to let anyone else know about his telepathic abilities. The fact that David was willing to share and confide with Uncle Axel in his secret abilities also show that David trusts Uncle Axel. Uncle Axel, now knowing that David is a Deviant, does not turn him in to the rest of the society but tells him to conceal it as a secret.
An invasion then happens from the Fringes and Gordon Strorm, who is Joseph’s brother and was banished into the Fringes, meets David. The Inspector and Joseph eventually end up in a squabble over the size of horses. The chapter ends by telling the readers more about the status of Waknuk as a society.
Chapter 5 begins by another scene where David and Sophie were playing together. However, there is another person this time, by the name of Alan who is unaware about the fact that Sophie is a Deviant. He eventually sees Sophie’s footprint in the sand and starts becoming suspicious of Sophie and starts the give chase. David tries to stop Alan but Alan managed to get over David. However, as soon as he got the upper hand, he was knocked out by a stone that hit him by Sophie.
Sophie’s father, upon knowing of the incident, kept his cool and started to get his family ready to escape and her family kissed David goodbye and left him a “curling lock of brown hair, tied with a piece of yellow ribbon”. When David returns home, his lateness and gift drawn suspicion from his family. Under the punishment and pain inflicted to him by Joseph, David reveals that Sophie is a Deviant.
Chapter 6 begins by telling us that other people in Waknuk came to know about Sophie. Sophie and her parents were eventually caught while trying to escape and David was given a stern lecture by the Inspector. As a collective result of these chain of events, David confides in Uncle Axel and tells him that he wants to run away. Uncle Axel managed to talk David out of doing so. The rest of the chapter highlights Uncle Axel’s justification by detailing the geographical aspects of Waknuk and how escape may or may not be viable as well as the types of people one would find at different locations and their languages. Uncle Axel also covers other details about other civilisations with David to allow David to make a more informed choice, again showing his concern for David’s well-being.
Emily gives birth to another baby by the name of Petra, who happens to be a telepath as well. Petra, nonetheless, was still certified normal by the Inspector since she had no deviating body parts physically. Aunt Harriet, who is Emily’s sister, has also gave birth, but to a Deviant. In a desperate bid to get her child certified as normal as well, she goes to Emily and hopes that Emily will swap babies with her to get her own baby certified as normal as well. However, Emily rejects her proposal and blows the situation up by accusing Aunt Harriet for concealment and attempt to commit a crime. Aunt Harriet eventually commits suicide in a river.
David is confused and partially oblivious by the overall chain of events. He eventually confides in Uncle Axel and Uncle Axel enlightens him on the situation and questions he had about Aunt Harriet, Sophie, the other societies around etc. At the end of the chapter, the telepathic group, which includes a few other characters apart from David and Rosalind, realises that Petra is also now part of their group as a telepath, which came as a pleasant surprise.
Chapter 9 begins with the telepathic group comes together telepathically and each try to communicate with Petra to educate and warn her about societal norms but decided that she was too young to understand and would do soon another date. David then has personal and casual discussions with his half-uncle Angus Morten and with Uncle Axel. Towards the end of the chapter, one of the telepaths, Anne, announces her plans to get married, which took the telepathic group by surprise.
Chapter 10 begins by telling us that there was defiance in Anne. The telepathic group tries to talk Anne out of getting married lest all of them get discovered to be telepaths and hence, as Deviants by the Waknuk society. Unfortunately, Anne refuses to budge and marries Alan, who turned Sophie in as a Deviant earlier in the novel. David, feeling helpless, then turns to Uncle Axel for advice in this situation. Uncle Axel eventually, out of self-sacrifice and love for David, turns to the most practical solution of killing Alan. Subsequently, Anne refused to communicate telepathically with the others.
There is also a tad bit when the novel implies that David and Rosalind are in love, but the parents of both Rosalind and David are separately arranging match-making sessions. At the end, Anne committed suicide, despite Michael and Rachel trying to intervene. Michael is also the leader of the telepathic group.
Chapter 11 begins with a scene where almost everything is normal in Waknuk. However, Petra who is playing in the woods meets a scary creature and lets out a loud telepathic scream and cry for help, which attracted the entire telepathic group, which was also their first meeting together physically. They eventually kill the creature but the act of them meeting together has caused a commotion that caught the attention of another man who is suspicious on why all of them would be running there (since he could not hear the telepathic screams that Petra gave off). Unfortunately, there is now great suspicion on the telepathic group and towards the end of chapter 11, the telepathic group now has to take more precaution.
Chapter 12 begins by telling us that Sally and Katherine (both of them are telepaths) being caught. As a result, the rest of the group has to make a plan of escape fast and urgently. The group tries to coordinate and get Petra to calm down as Sally and Katherine get taken to the Inspector. As they escape into the Fringes with horses, weapons and food, they continue communicating and taking turns to stay guard. They are also aware that Katherine was being tortured. As they also realise individuals like David and Petra were missing, Katherine and Sally were forced to confess who the other telepaths were, although still managed to conceal a few of the others who they have not been questioned about. They continued communicating and agreed to go to a place called either “Zealand” or “Sealand”. At the end of the chapter, a man discovers their location.
Chapter 13 begins with the man shooting an arrow at the telepaths but missed. David and Rosalind shot arrows back, caused the man to be injured and the horse to ride back to Waknuk without a rider in a state of panic. The telepathic group immediately get ready to get on their tracks and escape quicker, and they now suspect that Sally and Katherine may be already dead. David, Rosalind and Petra had to console themselves along the way but at the end, David reckons that they have made it to the Fringes. At the end of the chapter, something hits them and they blacked out.
Chapter 14 begins with them waking up gradually. They concluded that they have been attacked by the Fringes people and were now in bondage, as well as tell Michael that coming to the Fringes in small groups of people was a bad idea. The rest of the chapter talks about their experience in the Fringes and the conversations David and Petra, together with Rosalind had with the people there. According to Petra, the Sealand people who are going to rescue them are getting nearer. David meets Gordon Strorm again and also has a conversation with him on the differences between Waknuk and the Fringes. Towards the end, they tried to escape their bondage but fails to do so and got blacked out again.
Chapter 15 begins by David waking up to see Sophie again who is concerned about David and tries to free him. They had a conversation to catch up on the days when they were younger and talks briefly on their love life. Sophie gives them some tips on how to escape and treats their wounds and injuries as well. In fact, Sophie helps lead the escape for them, and even injures (and possibly killed) other Fringes people just to let them escape.
Chapter 16 begins by illustrating the jealously and tension between Rosalind and Sophie over David, and Rosalind is suspicious about Sophie’s intentions of helping them. Rosalind, Petra and David continue discussing about their plan of escape and are glad to know that the Sealand people are still on their way. They also communicate with the rest of the group such as Michael to inform him they are alright. Throughout the time, Rosalind gave them food and drinks to sustain themselves. Not long after, there was an invasion carried out by the people of Waknuk, with Joseph Strorm being part of it. Joseph was eventually shot by an arrow in the chest by Gordon and died.
As the Fringes people and the people of Waknuk begin to clash, the Sealand woman arrives. As a result of her weaponry, a strange web-like started to descend like flakes over the all the individuals involved in the battle, including David, Petra and Rosalind, causing them to be numb and stuck in a position, and as for David, “when [he] tried to open his eyes again, [he] found [he] could not”.
Chapter 17 begins by describing the unease and discomfort that David is feeling as he checks whether or not Petra and Rosalind are alright. The Sealand woman is also concerned about them as she tries to find them to free them. It turns out that everyone else is dead. The white flakes are plastic threads that contract as they dry up. Unfortunately, even though all of them are saved, there is not enough space on the Sealand woman’s transport to make it back to her place. As a result, Michael decides to stay for Rachel and to wait for another round before they come back to fetch them while the others who made it left with the Sealand woman to her place, which is supposed to be a utopia. The novel ends as such.