Georgie Mason has a morbid fascination with the polio epidemic even before she meets Phyllis Keller. As her friendship with Phyllis develops, she is struck by the fact that polio victims are not just statistics in the newspaper but real people with real lives. It shocks Georgie to realize that a person has to live paralyzed and confined to a cylinder containing eighty-five centimeters of air. She is so upset by the idea that she loses her faith in God.

As a hobby, Georgie makes small worlds inside cardboard boxes. She normally builds scenes from books she has read, but near the beginning of the novel she gets the idea to build a scene from the sky. She chooses to build a three-tiered model depicting the life of Orion the Hunter. Her scenes depict Orion underwater, on land, and in the sky.

In spite of her serious nature, Georgie is an ordinary girl. She likes to have fun, and she has a definite romantic streak. She wants her big brother, Emmett, to have a girlfriend so she can see up close what romance is like. However, she also feels left out when Emmett’s romance with Phyllis begins. When she senses that Phyllis intends to hurt Emmett, she resolves to protect him.

Phyllis Keller is completely paralyzed from polio, and she cannot breathe on her own. She is confined to an iron lung, a cylindrical metal device that forces air into and out of her lungs to keep her alive. The machine encases her whole body except for her head. She has little capacity for movement, so the machine is equipped with mirrors she can move to see the world around her. She controls the mirrors using one of the few muscles she can still move, a thigh muscle she calls Ralph.

Phyllis has a talent for dealing with people that is undiminished in spite of her illness. Because she does not have physical control over any aspect of her life, she manipulates other people to do what she wants. Even as she plots her suicide, she convinces her parents that she is relatively content. She inspires Georgie’s admiration and easily wins Georgie’s promise to help get a relationship...

(The entire section is 855 words.)