When he was five years old, Creighton's mother left. He and his father know she has started a career as a singer but not much more than that. Dad's work with a carnival means they have not set down roots anywhere for long and as a result Creighton does not have a formal education. When they finally settle in a small town, Creighton is 14 years old. When he starts school there he is placed in an alternate school — which it turns out is a place for "losers" — kids who struggle with learning.
Gradually Creighton meets other kids in his new school — like Schooner who can't read but has his own kind of wisdom and Carin who was a victim of sexual assault when she was thirteen. There is one teacher at the school who truly cares about the students and who encourages their hopes for the future. But when she announces she is leaving at the end of the year, the students feel abandoned. School becomes irrelevant and the students are left to fend for themselves. How will they manage to survive in spite of all the personal disasters that challenge them.