Yongju is an accomplished student from one of North Korea's most prominent families. Jangmi, on the other hand, has had to fend for herself since childhood, most recently by smuggling goods across the border.families. Danny is a Chinese-American teenager of Korean descent whose parents left China when he was nine; his quirks and precocious intelligence have long marked him as an outcast among his peers, and he yearns for the China of his youth.
These three disparate lives converge when each of them travels to the region where China borders North Korea—Danny to visit his mother, who is working as a missionary there; Yongju to escape persecution after his father is killed at the hands of the Dear Leader himself; and Jangmi to protect her unborn child.
As they struggle to survive in a place where danger seems to close in on all sides, in the form of government informants, husbands, thieves, abductors, and even missionaries, they come to form a kind of adopted family.
The novel transports the reader to one of the most complex and threatening environments in the world, and explores how humanity persists even in the most dire of circumstances.