On a hot, dry day a four-year-old girl named Raisa was taken out into a busy street by her parents and abandoned . . .
The world's population has exploded, water is scarce and comes at a premium, people and places have been stripped of their individuality, and government-controlled radio and television are the only sources of news and entertainment. As young Raisa is passed among orphanages and foster families, she is renamed Nadia Stepan and learns to don new personas as needed. She also learns to escape into the world of her imagination, a verdant place of freedom and adventure-things she is able to conjure thanks to the old, neglected books she read as a child.
When an opportunity presents itself, she risks her life to escape to the legendary North where, she's heard, Lighthouse Island may be found, a long-ago vacation spot where she is certain she will find her parents. Along the way she meets and falls in love with James Orotov-a brilliant, wealthy young map maker who is physically crippled-and together they embark on an odyssey that will change the course of the world.