It's 1987 and Joseph Pullman and his parents have just moved to Maritime, Maryland. This is white-picket-fence America, but for fifteen-year-old Joseph the threat of violence at home is as unrelenting as the punishment he receives at school, and his mother is slowly slipping away from reality.
Joseph forms an uneasy friendship with the awkward Dean Gillespie and the boys occupy themselves burying animal corpses at the Killing Tree. This is the summer the cicadas are due to come out of their seventeen-year hibernation and Joseph becomes convinced that their arrival will bring his salvation. Meanwhile, Mother is gone and Joseph's father has retreated to his basement workshop.
When a local boy goes missing and is finally found unconscious in the woods, Maritime is shaken. Then a second boy disappears and the residents of the town are forced to confront the secrets of the Pullmans' house.