The first chapter is critical in understanding the narrative that follows. Besieged with challenges in raising her children, with losing her job, and with a deteriorating mental state, Dicey's mom wakes her children up and tells them to pack the car. The opening is poignant and emotionally brutal as she parks the car with the children in it at a shopping mall:
The woman put her sad moon-face in at the window of the car. "You be good, " she said. "You hear me? You little ones, mind what Dicey tells you. You hear?"
At this point, she walks away and "disappeared into the crowd of Saturday morning shoppers entering the side doors of the mall." It is from this that Dicey has to assume control of her siblings and try to navigate them to safety. The chapter focuses on Dicey piecing together both what is happening and why her mother did what she did. Dicey begins the process of trying to get them to Aunt Cilia's place and ends the chapter with having to run away from a security officer, returning to the car when the coast is clear.