Welcome to the wasteland. At 15, the citizens of Prin marry. At 17, they reproduce. And at 19, they die. Esther thinks there's more to life than toiling at the assignments - Harvesting, Gleaning, Excavating - day after day under the relentless sun, just hoping to make it to the next day. She doesn't care that her best friend, a variant, is considered "the enemy". She doesn't care that Levi, who controls the Source, is the real enemy and might send his Taser boys after her if she makes one wrong move. Then Caleb shows up. Could there be another way to fight for survival?
The source has been destroyed. Food is scarce. Tensions are rising. Then the earthquake strikes. Esther and Caleb hit the road, leading a ragtag caravan. Their destination? A mythical city where they hope to find food and shelter - not to mention a way to make it past age 19. On the way, alliances and romances blossom and fracture as the group faces vicious gangs, violent weather, and more variants. Esther must rally to take charge, accepting the help of a blind wilderness guide, Aras.
No one dares to leave the District - the towering structure of glass and steel that is their protection against the unruly bands of Outsiders that roam Mundreel and the deadly rain that carries the disease that kills all over the age of 19. This skyscraper stands amid the urban devastation, the city rumored to have once been called "Montreal". Esther and her allies have created a haven on the rooftop, a garden that flourishes, and a home for her new baby, hidden from all but the very few who know her secret.