The survivor is the survivor of some sort of apocalypse. She lives in a large block of flats. One day - without explanation - she is brought a twelve-year old girl, Emily to look after. Much of the novel - apart from scenes from Emily's early, unhappy life - is about the gradually deteriorating environment in which they live and about Emily's growing-up in this environment. We see an ineffectual government, people looking in vain for a better life and gangs that control territory and set up their own food-growing units. Emily grows up and falls in love with Gerald, one of the better gang leaders, who is trying to look after homeless children. But the world has moved on and there are now gangs of feral children, who have never known anything else and they quickly destroy what Gerald and Emily stand for. The message is clear - there is only hope if we care for one another. The secondary message - that this society is not just some unspecified apocalypse set in the future but is us, now - is also clear.