The majority of A Child Called It takes place in the childhood home and school of Dave Pelzer located in Daly City, California. Specifically, Pelzer makes note of the basement, where he would spend many hungry and cold nights sleeping on a cot by himself. Frequent abusive episodes also occurred in the bathroom and kitchen of the family home.
Pelzer finds some solace at school, although he eventually becomes ostracized by his classmates for his dirty clothes and offensive odor since he isn't allowed to wash at home. Due to his extreme hunger, he also steals food at school and at the local market.
The family's trips to a cabin by the Russian River in Northern California are the setting for Pelzer's best memories growing up. His recollections there include watching peaceful sunsets, having fun with his brothers and his mother treating him with kindness.