Belle Prater is missing. Since she inexplicably disappeared about a year ago, her son, Woodrow, has been living with his grandparents, next door to his cousin Gypsy. The two are best friends, joined by their adventurous sprits and shared love of stories and magic.
One night they receive a puzzling phone call, which provides a clue that sends Gypsy and Woodrow on a mission to find Belle. Joining them is Cassie Caulborne, the new girl in school, who, like Woodrow and Gypsy, has experienced the loss of a parent. She is also endowed with a valuable gift: she knows things, things that happened in the past and reveal themselves to her in dreams. Their quest leads them out of their sheltered life in Coal Station, Virginia, and eventually back to Woodrow's home in Crooked Ridge.
On the road they meet new people with their own stories to tell. One is Joseph, who has to sit at the back of the bus because he is black. The young people join him in the rear and learn that he, too, is on a search: for his father. They help one another to find what they're looking for and gain friendship along the way.