In the summer before going away to college, Dade Hamilton meets a mysterious teenager who helps him open up to new ideas and prospects. Dade is a closeted gay teenager at the end of his senior year of high school in the fictional town of Cedarville, Iowa. His "boyfriend", Pablo Soto, is the school's quarterback and one of the most popular boys in school. However, he insists that he is straight and has a girlfriend, Judy Lockhart, the most popular girl in school. At the same time, he is dealing with the emotional distance of both of his parents, car salesmen Ned and art teacher Peggy. Peggy suffers from depression, which she has medication for. She yearns to leave Cedarville and return to the country to resume making art. Ned is simply distant from his wife and son and takes classes at a local poetry class. In the midst of his personal crisis, the town is gripped by the disappearance of a nine year old girl, Jenny Moore.
At the beginning of the book, Dade tells Pablo that he loves him after they have sex, which causes Pablo to slap him until he takes it back. When he goes to school, he is harassed by Pablo's friends and girlfriend, who believe that he is gay. During dinner with his father, he finds out that Ned is having an affair with a woman from his poetry class. He asks Dade to keep it a secret from his mother, a request that infuriates Dade. A few days before the end of the school year, Dade "is invited" to a house party thrown by popular girl, Jessica Montana. At the same time, Peggy finds out about the affair and confronts Dade about his knowledge about it. She angrily accuses him of being on his father's side and keeping things from her before storming off. He decides to go to the party rather than stay home. At the party, he's ignored by most of the guests, except for Jessica's awkward sister Francesca (nicknamed "Fessica"). When he notices that she had too much to drink, he brings her to her bed so that she could sleep it off. Fessica takes his actions as him hitting on her and tries to make a move on him, causing him to leave the party. While outside, he is approached by a young man who asks him for directions to the party. He points him to the right direction and develops a crush on the stranger.
While at work, Dade finds out that Fessica has been telling everyone that he fingered her during the party. Enraged, he confronts her and she bursts into tears and apologizes profusely. He tells her that he would accept her apology if she tells him who the handsome stranger was. She tells him that his name is Alex Kincaid and that is her sister's marijuana dealer. She also tells him where he works, much to the delight of Dade. He stops at Alex's job later that night under the pretense of buying weed from him and meets Alex's friend and coworker, Jay. Alex asks him to wait for him after his shift is over and Dade accepts. The two go to the home of Alex's supplier and friend, Dingo, where he is watching a movie with his band mates, Thomas and Louie. They chat, buy some weed, and smoke a little before heading out. Alex and Dade spend a while talking and watching the night sky as they wait for their high to wear off. Before bringing him home, Alex gives Dade his number.
The next day, Peggy and Dade go shopping for things that he would need for college. When they return home, they spend some time relaxing before going to their neighbors' for a barbeque. The wife, Mrs. Savage, introduces Dade to her niece, Lucy, who was staying with the Savages for the summer. She tells them that she was having issues with drugs. While they are alone, Lucy correctly guesses that he is gay, which shocks him. She then reveals that she is a lesbian, which was the real reason as to why she was sent away. They talk more before heading out to the barbeque. During the night, Pablo comes to visit Dade to talk and eventually, Dade rebuffs him.
One night, Lucy invites him out to Cherry's, a gay bar hidden away in town. While the receptionist knows that they are underaged, she lets them in. While watching the patrons, Dade spots Pablo and, at the encouragement of Lucy, goes to speak to him. However, he is coldly rebuffed and leaves with Lucy. While in the parking lot of a convenience store, he breaks down into tears with Lucy comforting him. The next morning, while sitting by the pool, Dade is visited by Fessica. She apologizes again for what happened at the party and Dade accepts it. She becomes eager at the prospect of having a friend and possibility of being a couple. However, he shoots down the thought when he tells her that he is gay. Distressed at being lonely, she bursts into tears and he tries to comfort her. He brings her to his room and lets her smoke a little weed before bringing her home. Before they get to her house, they talk about her parents' marital problems and she becomes angry at Dade's remarks. When she gets home, she calls him a "faggot" like her sister does.
Alex calls Dade while he is at work to invite him to a party at Dingo's. He accepts and tries to get Lucy to go with him; however, she is unable to go anywhere. Nervous, he decides to brave it alone. While at the party, he gets his head shaved by Jay. Alex brings him outside to talk in private. He reveals that he is gay and was in a relationship with a teacher a few years back. They go for a drive and make out in Alex's car. A few days later, the two go on a drive to a town away from Cedarville to visit Alex's grandfather's grave. They end up making love in the grass. When he returns home, he receives texts from Pablo that become increasingly abusive. He ignores them, drinks lemonade mixed with vodka, and goes outside for air. While outside, he believes that he sees Jenny on the edge of his lawn. But when he tries to call out to her, he collapses from the drinking.
His parents wake him up the next morning and drag him in for a talk. They become upset over his changed attitude over the past weeks and threaten to make his last month home unpleasant. He explodes and tells them that they're miserable attitudes have been affecting him more than they realize/care. He eventually tells them that he is gay, causing different reactions in his parents. His mother accepts him and pulls him into a hug, while his father remains quiet. Dade tells Lucy about the conversation later on in the day and confesses that he saw Jenny Moore the night before. Lucy is skeptical and believes that he had a cryptic dream, though he isn't so sure. They go to Taco Taco so Lucy could meet Alex and Jay and get invited to a party at the house of Bert McGraw, a homophobic jock. While Alex does business with the party goers, Jay, Lucy, and Dade try to mingle and avoid the popular crowd. Jay and Lucy have fun with others in the pool while Dade is confronted by Pablo. Eventually, he returns to the pool and tells Lucy about running into Pablo. As they talk, Alex returns and Lucy goes back into the pool. The two go upstairs for some private time and soon the four take off. Before leaving, he receives two texts from Pablo, who claims to be watching him.
The next night at dinner, Ned tells Dade that he and Peggy are going to Europe to repair their marriage. Around the same time, Peggy brings up the idea of them meeting Alex. All parties are hesitant but ultimately they decide to go for it. At the same time, Pablo makes a pass at Dade in the dairy cooler, which makes him flee in panic. Dinner becomes increasingly tense when Ned realizes that this was nothing like he envisioned it. He leaves the table in a huff, leaving everyone else in an awkward silence. After dinner, Dade and Alex spend time in his room before Alex leaves to meet someone. Dade goes to the diner with Lucy to talk about dinner and the impending future of college.
After his parents leave, Dade spends his time in the empty house with Alex, Jay, and Lucy. He also finds out that Jenny Moore has been found at the supermarket where he works by one of his coworkers. A few days before his parents are set to return, Alex convinces Dade to throw a party. He reluctantly agrees and Alex invites Dingo and his band to play at the party. The party turns into a rager as people float in and out of the house at all hours of the night. The morning after, he finds Pablo in his house, asking to talk. They go down to the kitchen and discuss what would happen after the summer. Before he leaves, his pulls Dade in for a kiss and suddenly takes off. Later in the day, Dade gets a call from Fessica saying that Pablo died in a car crash.
In the epilogue, Dade talks about his feelings after Pablo's death, his eventual break up with Alex, and going off to college.
Best part of story, including ending:
It's a nice coming-of-age story that some, though not all, gay teens could relate to.
Best scene in story:
The house party at Bert McGraw's house. It's a nice contrast from the party that Dade went to at the beginning of the summer at the Montana's in that he doesn't have to worry about his safety and he has his own "clique" to hang out with. Also, it's very entertaining.
Opinion about the main character:
Dade is a realist. His demeanor in general reminds me of my best friend's and is definitely a more realistic depiction of a teenager.