Arty’s goal is to find life on Mars. On the roof outside his bedroom, using a homemade signaling device, Arty directs messages toward Mars and waits for a response. One night he sees a man come out of the house next door, carrying a black garbage bag into the woods. Arty and his friends Tripp and Priya decide his neighbor is a face-eating zombie and call him Mr. Death. Arty is upset to learn his family is moving far from the Midwest. Plans get mixed up while his parents are in Las Vegas, looking for a new house, and Arty must spend the night at Mr. Death’s house.
Jewel never knew her brother John. Jewel’s grandfather nicknamed her brother Bird, and encouraged him to pretend he could fly. Bird jumped off a cliff and died the day Jewel was born. No one talks about Bird or how he died, and her grandfather doesn’t speak at all. One night Jewel climbs her favorite tree and discovers someone else is already there, and his name is John. The two become fast friends, sharing their hopes and dreams for the future.
Lucy leaves repeated voicemail messages with a trophy company complaining about a mishandled order, but no one answers or returns her calls. Finally James answers his new phone. While trying to convince Lucy that he is not the trophy company, he tells her what town he lives in and where he goes to school. They become phone friends, sharing stories of family and friends. Two months and many conversations later they make plans to meet, but a family issue keeps James away. They don’t meet face-to-face until the end of the book.
After Astri’s mother dies, her father decides to leave Norway to seek his fortune in America. He sends Astri and her sister Greta to live with their aunt and uncle. Her aunt sells Astri to a mean goat herder who abuses hardworking Astri until she runs away. Astri returns to her aunt and uncle’s house to get Greta so they can follow their father. They travel to the coast and find a boat bound for America. Astri pays for her passage and Greta stows away. The voyage in steerage is treacherous with rough seas and disease.
When seven-year-old Sophie Crue and her father left Guam, her scientist mother stayed behind, working for Corpus on Skin Island. Much later, seventeen-year-old Sophie gets an emergency email from her mother. On Guam, no one will fly Sophie to mysterious Skin Island. Jim , a childhood friend, reluctantly agrees to take her and the plane is damaged on landing. Sophie goes with island resident Nicholas to find her mother, but becomes suspicious of him. Sophie slips into a room to find Lux sleeping – a girl who looks exactly like her.