The Beaumont family has an inherited trait to get a magic power, called a‘savvy’ that activates on their 13th birthday. Mibs is 12, going on 13, and is excited to get her own savvy, hopefully a really awesome, amazing one like her brothers, who can control electricity and the weather. But then, two days before her birthday, her family receives news that her father was in a terrible accident and in a coma in a hospital in Salina, Kansas. Her mother, whose savvy is perfection, and her brother Rocket drive to Salina together, leaving Mibs, Fish, and their two younger siblings Samson and Gypsy home with their grandfather Bomba, who can move land. (He created the strip of land they call Nebransas/Kansaska.) Mibs’ excitement is dampened and she begins to wish that God would send her a savvy that would help her help her father.
She comes home from school the next day to find the preacher’s wife, Mrs. Rosemary, in the house, tidying things up and keeping things spic-n’-span. She sends Mibs up to hang out with Will Junior and Bobbi, who are upstairs. At this point, Mibs is not friends with Bobbi, and in fact the farthest thing from it. When they come downstairs for dinner, Mrs. Rosemary informs Mibs that she is planning a birthday party for her tomorrow at the chapel, much to Mibs’ dismay. “Thirteenth birthdays in the Beaumont family were strictly non-public affairs.” (pg. 30) Because they could often end up being disastrous—Rockets’ birthday caused statewide blackouts, and Fish’s caused a sudden hurricane of mass destruction, strengthened by the living close to the ocean at the time.
The next morning, Mibs notices how as soon as the like-a-rock-sleeping Gypsy wakes up the same time Mibs does, unusually, and comes downstairs to find Samson’s previously-supposed dead pet turtle is alive and swimming around in his tank. It isn’t until they all have gotten to the church that she wonders if her savvy might be to wake things up, and she gets an idea. She enters the church and notices the preacher shouting at a bible deliveryman angrily about what appears to be pink bibles, and keeps going, with Will accompanying her, to find Bobbi making sandwiches for the party. While she sits quietly off to the side, she’s aware of a voice that belongs to no one, muffled and just barely indecipherable, just behind her eyes. Straining to listen, she’s thrown off balance and falls into Will, knocking a tray of sandwiches to the ground. As she’s standing back up, she notices a small tattoo on Bobbi’s lower back, a little angel with devil horns and tail, which suddenly moves and says, “‘She’s really very lonely, you know…’”(pg. 53) Mibs promptly passes out.
When Mibs wakes up, she’s in the preacher’s office, and can hear three arguments happening at once. One is between Mrs. Rosemary and Fish, who are chasing each other around the desk, shouting about whether or not to call an ambulance for the fainted Mibs, the second is between the preacher and the poor delivery man, the preacher absolutely furious that the man would bring him pink bibles, heaven forbid. The third has no clear point of origin, and is between two nasty-sounding ladies Carlene and Rhonda.
Nobody notices her awakening but Will, who is peeking through the door. Mibs slips out with Will, and has a wonderful idea to go to Salina to wake up her father with her newfound savvy of waking people up. She is adamant about getting to Salina, somehow, as she walks out of the church with Will. She notices the delivery man’s pink bus, and sees that the company is based in Salina. She quickly boards the bus, and Will follows. Bobbi is leaning against the bus and enters, asking what they’re doing. Fish, at that moment, comes storming out of the church, looking for Mibs, and sees her on the bus steps. Mibs, Will, and Bobbi all get on the bus, and are arguing about how Will is totally not going to Salina, or at least not without her. “‘If you two disappear, guess who’ll be held responsible? Guess who’ll get in trouble? Me, that’s who. And if I’m going to get in trouble, it had better be for something really good. I’m going with you.’” (pg. 69) Bobbi informed them.
Fish then stormed onto the bus and demanded to know what was going on. Mibs stubbornly tells him she’s going to Salina, and Bobbi let’s him know they’re all going, and he can come or get off. At that moment, though, the Preacher, the delivery man, and Mrs. Rosemary all come out of the church, looking for them. Knowing they can’t get caught on the bus, they scramble to the back and hide behind a stack or two of boxes of the pink bibles, and find as well that Samson has hidden himself under a cot at the back.
The deliveryman boards glumly, and starts off, unaware of his stowaways. With him come the shouting and bickering voices of Carlene and Rhonda, much to Mibs’ displeasure, accompanied by the voice of Bobbi’s tattoo. As they reach the road, though, the bus turns the opposite direction of Salina. The kids can’t say anything, so they stay quiet and still, hiding at the back of the bus. They drive for a long time until Bobbi gets bored and kicks Fish,who’s sitting at the end of the cot. Fish’s powers vex, and there’s a mini windstorm of chaos at the back of the bus, prompting the bus driver to hit the brakes. Samson calms Fish’s anger, just as the bus driver shows up at the back of the bus, mad as he can possibly be.
“‘What are you k-kids doing b-back there?’” He says with all the might he can while Mibs hears--and now sees--his tattoos of the names Carlene and Rhonda shouting about how much of a pansy Lester is. After some hesitance, Mibs explains that she needs needs needs to get to Salina. Easily convinced, Lester Swan let’s the kids stay on the bus until he arrives in Salina tomorrow afternoon. They groan, as that is a very long time away, and accept.
On the way, they stop and pick up a woman named Lill Kiteley who’s car has broken down, who is very kind and all the kids take to her instantly. She succeeds in lifting the mood on the bus after listening patiently to the kids’ stories, and takes a liking to Lester. She offers to supply dinner for them that night at the diner she works at. They get to the diner, and Mibs realizes that maybe her power isn’t to wake things up but to hear people’s thoughts through ink on their skin. As they walk into the diner, Mibs notices a unconscious homeless man and her savvy is confirmed when she fails to wake him up but hears snippets of his pained thoughts through an old tattoo.
When they enter, Mibs is aggressively assaulted by the tattoos of the many, many bikers in the diner, and she is immediately overwhelmed. Lill let’s her and Fish into the backroom where she lies down on the couch. She explains to Fish what her savvy is, and notice that Bobbi heard their whole conversation, and now knows her secret “‘So you read minds, do you?’” (pg. 165). She dashes out, and Fish and Mibs notice the TV, which is broadcasting a news update on missing children, and show the faces of them, Samson, Bobbi, and Will. Fish switches off the TV, just as Lill’s boss, Ozzie, comes bursting through the back door, and pushes them out of the back room and fires Lill. Lester finds a little backbone and stands up to Ozzie,who’s talking smack to Lill, and a small scuffle ensues. Ozzie is knocked over, a pie is stolen, and dinner is grabbed at the last minute as they all tear out of the diner and head for the bus. Mibs, bless her heart, leaves a sandwich for the homeless man.
As they’re boarding the bus, Bobbi is assaulting Mibs with her thoughts, demanding she tell her what she’s thinking. (“‘Tell me what I’m thinking. Do you know what I’m thinking?’” pg. 181) Enraged, Fish scares the crap out of Will and Bobbi and subsequently proves they have magic powers byblasting them with a powerful wind storm. Fish, in that moment, learns how to control his savvy, and they all board the bus and head for a hotel nearby. They stay a night, and fool Lill into thinking they called their parents--Bobbi pretending to be her mother on the other end of the phone--and go swimming in the pool. The next morning, they set out to drop off some money at Lester’s boss’ house, which turns out to be the evil Carlene.
Upon arriving at Carlene’s trailer, she squawks that the money Lester gathered isn’t enough while all the kids get off and go to use Carlene’s bathroom. Carlene goes wack on Lester, recognizing the kids’ faces from TV, and they all storm out hurriedly, and go about a mile before realizing they left Samson. They getback and Carlene refuses to tell them where he is, having hid him. They draw a face on Carlene’s skin with a pen, and her thought give away Samson’s location, as well as Samson, who draws faces all over himself. The police arrive and soon everything’s a mess. For an hour, caseworkers and social service people look all the kids over, before Bill, Will’s brother, arrives and hugs Will especially tight. “‘Were you looking for trouble like your old man used to get into? Don’t try to be like me, Will, you’re too smart for that.’” (pg. 291) Bill whispered to Will, and Mibs promptly puts two and two together and realizes Will is Bill’s son.
Bill appeals to the cops around and allows Lester to drive all of them to Salina to see the family, seeing as they never did anything wrong, and soon they’re all at the hospital, reuniting with their families. Mibs’ mom leads her up to see their father, who’s still in a coma, and notices how much damage that’s been caused by Rocket’s uncontrolled savvy outbursts. (E.g. broken glass, broken instruments) Mibs attempts to talk to her father through his tattoo on his arm, and yells encouraging words. Her father flatlines for a second, then wakes up.
Jumping a year ahead, Rocket is moving out to live with their cousins in Wyoming to learn to control his savvy, and her father is back at home, recovered except for minor mental issues in remembering things.