In the summer of 1952, polio has spread throughout Indiana, causing a widespread panic. With pools closed and camps cancelled, Georgie is stuck at home all summer in a new neighborhood with nothing to do. That is, until she discovers that her next-door neighbor is a beautiful young teenage girl stuck in an iron lung. Fascinated by Phyllis’s eighty-seven cubic centimeters of air, Georgie vows to help Phyllis and works to bring her and her brother Emmett together. But Georgie realizes that Phyllis has other plans in store for Emmett, and soon Georgie must save Emmett from Phyllis's deception before it is too late.
In this coming-of-age story, Georgie is facing life in a new part of town, having to go to a new school and make all new friends. In addition, most of the things she loves to do that enable her to make friends are forbidden now due to the polio outbreak. Her only human contacts besides her family are Evelyn (the quirky girl she meets at the library) and Phyllis. Georgie first becomes entranced by the romanticism of Phyllis’s life in the iron lung, but her childlike innocence eventually enables her to see through all the lies and deception. There she finds a family who is determined to hang on to what little of their daughter they have left, and a daughter who wants so desperately to be freed from her iron prison, even if it means death. While Georgie’s situation is unique, the feelings she experiences are ones that tweens can relate to—trying to fit in, finding a purpose, living vicariously through older siblings, and wanting what she cannot have.