Maya Vidal is sixteen when Popo, her beloved grandfather, dies and Nini, her grandmother, falls into a depression. Without the support of her family, Maya quickly falls in with the wrong crowd in her Berkeley, California, high school, joining a trio of naughty girls who call themselves The Vampires. She goes from being a good student and an excellent athlete to a delinquent, descending a spiral of lies, unsafe sex, drugs, alcohol and petty theft. Following a car accident, Maya spends almost three years in a school for troubled teens in Oregon. After escaping one night, she decides to hitchhike her way to freedom, and is picked up by a truck driver who takes her to a motel, viciously rapes her, and leaves her in Las Vegas.
In Sin City Maya meets Brandon Leeman and his two henchmen, Chino and Joe Martin, drug dealers and thieves who entice her to join their band. Dressed to kill, her hair bleached white, and perpetually stoned, Maya distributes drugs in high-end hotels and casinos. Confident she is too young and naive to double-cross or otherwise harm him, Brandon Leeman initiates her into the world of counterfeiting money, a federal crime. While she is under Leeman’s protection, Maya is relatively safe, but when he is murdered, she must escape Chino, Joe Martin, a gang of counterfeiters, the police, and even the FBI. She ends up on the streets of Las Vegas— homeless, sick, and addicted to drugs and alcohol.
Eventually, Nini, her Chilean grandmother, rescues her and takes her back to California. After spending a month in rehab, Maya agrees to Nini’s plan for her to travel to Chiloe, a remote island off the coast of southern Chile, where she can hide from her pursuers in the home of Manuel Arias, an old friend of Nini’s. A recluse in his seventies who lives in a house with no doors, Manuel Arias is haunted by memories of his ordeal as a political prisoner. He could not be more different from Maya’s kind Popo, but she learns to love him. At the same time, she struggles to understand why he would protect such a conflicted young fugitive.
Maya spends a year on the island, disconnected from technology and ensconced in a magical world of nature, myth and spirits. Silence and solitude lead her to initiate a journey into her own soul and to write daily in her notebook. Her quiet state of mind also enables her to communicate with the ghost of her Popo, who before he died promised he would never abandon her. She becomes part of the small rural community, learns about the mythology of the island, as well as about Chile’s tragic history, and discovers the mystery of Manuel Arias’ past and of her own family. One day she meets Daniel Goodrich, a handsome African-American backpacker from Seattle, and falls in love. Finally, her life seems happy…
But one of Maya’s enemies has picked up her trail: she has something he is determined to recover. When he finally catches up with her on the island, Maya realizes that no matter how well she hides, sooner or later she must come to terms with her past.