In 2024, near Los Angeles, Lauren Olamina begins to realize that neither governmental authority, the neighborhood vigilantes, nor her father’s God will protect her or her family from the ravages of a world gone savage. Communities must build walls to keep out the vast hordes of homeless derelicts who have nothing but what they can take. Scavenging has become a way of life, often prompted by “Paints,” addicts who shave their heads, paint their faces, and set fires which incite them to murder and rape.
Lauren’s father is a minister, a leader who teaches the members of his community to defend what is theirs and to be prepared for trouble. Lauren, affected by hyperempathy syndrome, a condition that causes her to share others’ pain, senses that complete destruction is in the near future and makes plans for their escape.
Sooner than she expects, the structure of her life begins to disintegrate. Her brother runs away and is later killed; her father disappears, and the walls of her neighborhood are breached during several thefts. Finally, the Paints stage a large-scale attack, and most of the residents are murdered. Lauren and Harry, another survivor, are forced to follow her plan, walking the interstate northward. They discover a substantial migration lured by the rumors of jobs and a better life, and though they must remain vigilant and suspicious, they pick up several others on their journey.
As the members of the incongruous band learn to work together, Lauren has an opportunity to share with them the philosophy, the creed she has refined as she herself matured, a creed which will set them firmly on the road to man’s ultimate destiny.