Inverness is a predominantly affluent community, just north of San Francisco. It takes its name from the famous town in the Scottish Highlands. It's the place where David Sheff and his wife, Karen, live as the story begins. Karen has a small cabin in a hillside garden not far from town where she and David spend as much time as possible. It's a peaceful, idyllic part of the world, the last place you'd expect anyone to experience the kind of difficulties that Nic eventually encounters.
David and Karen fall in love with the town, so much so that they build a home and painting studio in the hillside garden. They move into their new place in autumn, just before Nic begins sixth grade at his new school and just before the start of his problems with drug addiction.