The Bone People is an unusual story of love. The differences are in the way of telling, the subject matter and the form of love that the story writes on. This is in no way a romance; it is rather filled with violence, fear and twisted emotions. At the story's core, however, are three people who struggle very hard to figure out what love is and how to find it. The book is divided into two major sections, the first involving the characters interacting together, and the second half involving their individual travels.
In the first half, 7-year-old Simon shows up at the hermit Kerewin's tower on a gloomy and stormy night. Simon is mute and thus is unable to explain his motives. When Simon's adoptive father, Joe, arrives to pick him up in the morning, Kerewin gets to know their curious story. After a freak storm years earlier, Simon was found washed up on the beach with no memory and very few clues as to his identity. Despite Simon's mysterious background, Joe and his wife Hana took the boy in. Later, Joe's infant son and Hana both died, forcing Joe to bring the troubled and troublesome Simon up on his own.
Kerewin finds herself developing a relationship with the boy and his father. Gradually it becomes clear that Simon is a deeply traumatised child, whose strange behaviours Joe is unable to cope with. Kerewin discovers that, in spite of the real familial love between them, Joe is physically abusing Simon.
Following a catalyst event, the three are driven violently apart. Simon witnesses a violent death and seeks Kerewin out, but she is angry with him for stealing some of her possessions and will not listen. Simon reacts by kicking in the side of her guitar, a much prized gift from her estranged family, whereupon she tells him frostily to leave. The boy goes to the town and breaks a series of shop windows, and when he is returned home by the police, Joe beats him more viciously than he has ever done previously. Simon, who has concealed a shard of glass from his crime, stabs his father. Both are hospitalized, and Joe is sent to prison for child abuse.
In the second half of the novel, Joe returns from his prison sentence, Simon is still in the hospital, and Kerewin is seriously and inexplicably ill. Joe loses custody of his adopted son. He travels aimlessly and finds an old spiritual man dying. Through him, Joe learns the possible identity of Simon's father. Simon is sent to a children's home, and Kerewin demolishes her tower, leaving with the expectation of dying within the year. All three overcome life-changing events, webbed with Maori mythology and legend.
Eventually Kerewin takes custody of Simon, keeping him close to her and Joe. Without Kerewin's knowledge or permission, Joe contacts Kerewin's family, resulting in a joyous reconciliation. The final scene of the novel depicts the reunion of Kerewin, Simon and Joe, who are all celebrating back at the beach where Kerewin has rebuilt her home, this time in the shape of a shell with many spirals. The end of the novel, despite many things remaining in the air, is a happy one.