Andrew’s parents are divorcing, so they drop him off with his grandmother, Cynthia, whom he barely knows. She’s frightened of him, wary of his eyes and expression … she “wasn’t sure anyone was looking back. This child is broken.” However, she doesn’t voice her concerns, and within hours the two are alone. He feels abandoned until he meets a strange creature who lives under the town park gazebo. It’s a sexless assemblage of plaster and copper pipe with a voice that enters his brain, not his ears, but Andrew names it Shadow, after his deceased female dog, so the creature is always female to him. They play chess — Shadow lets Andrew win when she’s feeling generous — and question each other about their separate worlds.
Meanwhile, a sinister man named Paul appears, first in flashbacks about the White Rabbit Society, then at Cynthia’s home. An odd assortment of characters follow in his wake: Jeremiah, Thomas, Luke the Bastard, Fat Rob, Hard Chris, Anna. Paul is upset that Andrew has met the creature under the gazebo and given it a name, warning him to stay away from Shadow. Andrew, of course, ignores him, as Shadow is his only friend and Paul holds no power over him.
After Paul’s appearance, bizarre things start happening — the town undergoes an inexplicable change in which downtown buildings shift into strange geometric shapes, sidewalks ooze like wax, smoke fills the air, and the streets are lined with tall glass cylinders. No one is harmed except Paul, who’s taken away on a stretcher, speechless and unresponsive. The school secures students in the basement, where Andrew hears what’s going on because he’s seated near the radio. Police tape and barriers soon block off great swathes of town and people start leaving.
Although he’s initially bullied at school, Andrew is soon friended by the geeky Josh, to whom he introduces Shadow. Soon the boys are up to all sort of mischief, mild to serious, until one incident ends badly. While it throws a temporary wrench into their friendship, Jeremiah appears offering solutions and looking for books Paul left behind, which hold peculiar and frightening powers.
Most of the novel doesn’t make sense, but it’s so fascinating bookworms can’t turn away. Like many weird stories, it holds readers’ attention almost against their will, forcing them to keep turning the pages, or continuing to the second volume, in hope that all the loose ends will be tied up. Perhaps they will.