Stephen Grove is a twelve-year-old schoolboy living in a small town on the south coast of England. His father walked out when he was three, leaving him with an unsympathetic elder sister and an almost equally unsympathetic mother. Stephen is shy, friendless and studious, and has become the target of bullies.
Their campaign against him is so vicious that he decides to hang himself. In the woods he chooses a tree and is about to climb up when a tiny bird appears above him in the foliage.
“The bird glanced down at him, half over its shoulder as it were, revealing that the eyes were curiously tilted together by the shape of its skull. This lent it a benign, quizzical expression which seemed to be reaching deep, very deep, inside him.
“He felt as if he had been found out and were being chided by an omniscient friend.”
From that moment on, Stephen’s life is not his own.