We first meet Brian on a small plane headed toward the oilfields of northern Canada. He's thinking about his parents' recent divorce, and he's not too happy about it—to put it lightly.
The pilot of the plane suddenly suffers a heart attack and dies, leaving Brian alone on the plane. Um, yikes. Brian does his best to keep calm and come up with a plan, but really, do you know how to land a plane? The plane eventually crashes into a lake and Brian escapes out the broken windshield.
Brian painstakingly figures out how to survive on his own—finding shelter, building a fire, the works. All the while, though, he's counting on being rescued at any time.
When a rescue plane does show up, though, Brian isn't ready, and the plane leaves before he has a chance to attract the pilot's attention with a signal fire. Major, major bummer. Brian collapses in despair, realizing that his chance to be rescued has passed him by, and he is alone.
The next time we see Brian, it's forty-two days later. The narrator tells us that Brian tried to kill himself after the rescue plane left. But now, his hope of being rescued has been replaced with a different kind of hope, a hope in his own ability to take care of himself.
Things are okay for a while. Well, as okay as they can be when you're lost in the Canadian wilderness on your own.
After a tornado hits, Brian is able to recover the pilot's emergency survival bag from the plane.
Inside the bag is an emergency transmitter. Brian assumes it's broken after flipping the switch several times and hearing nothing, but soon enough, a plane suddenly shows up and lands to find him.
In the book's epilogue, we learn about Brian's life after his return to the city. For the most part, things go back to normal—Brian's parents go on with their separate lives, and Brian never does tell his father his secret.