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Whit and Wisty Allgood are having a bad night. Seemingly out of nowhere, the teenagers are torn from their beds and hauled off to prison by soldiers who serve the new evil government, the New Order (a.k.a. the N.O.). Apparently the N.O. is heavily into arresting children. They're particularly excited to get their hands on Whit and Wisty, who they accuse of having magical powers. Whit and Wisty are pretty sure they're regular teenagers, but when Wisty spontaneously combusts on the way out—and doesn't seem any worse for wear after she's extinguished—the charges that she's a witch suddenly seem a bit more credulous.
After a not-so-friendly chat with The One Who Is The One, who is the N.O.'s evil leader and all-purpose Big Bad, the kids are carted off to prison, where they learn the New Order is systematically rounding up kids and jailing them. Oh, goody.
After a sham of a "trial" helmed by an apoplectic judge, Ezekiel Unger, Whit and Wisty are taken to a different facility. It's a prison too, and it used to be a mental hospital, just in case you were wondering how creepy it is. The prison has been specially equipped to dampen the kids' magical powers. But when Wisty starts glowing like nuclear waste in the first five seconds after arriving, the kids figure out that those security measures might not be quite up to snuff.
During their imprisonment, Whit and Wisty slowly come around to the idea that they are in fact a witch and a wizard. Meanwhile, they're dealing with the sadists who run the place, including the Matron and the Visitor. There are medical tests and cruel and unusual punishments; to get food and water the kids have to run through a weird nightmare hallway filled with rabid dogs. So when Whit's dead ex-girlfriend, Celia, shows up in ghost form to help them escape via a portal to a purgatory world, they think it sounds like a brilliant plan. You know your life's in bad shape when something like that sounds like a good idea.
The plan works (more or less), and while they're with Celia, Whit and Wisty make some interesting discoveries. One is that the world as they know it is just one level of reality called the Overworld. The Underworld, where Celia more or less resides, is… not exactly pleasant. It's quiet and dark and cold, and it's filled with roving bands of flesh-eating shadow creatures called the Lost Ones. The Lost Ones are decidedly uncool, so the siblings book it on out of there at the earliest opportunity.
Back in the Overworld, Whit and Wisty meet the child rebels of a place called Freeland, which is outside of New Order control. These children have headquartered themselves in a bombed-out department store, where they burn perfume to run generators.
The rebels are super excited because they think Whit and Wisty were destined to save them. (Evidently they heard a prophecy to that effect.) Whit and Wisty, meanwhile, are desperate to find their parents, but the child rebels need their help to raid the children's prison. Eventually the siblings agree, but only because a rebel tells them that their own parents are imprisoned at the facility. The rebels invade the prison and overcome the New Order with the help of Wisty, who sets herself on fire for a very long time. It's really cool.
Finally, The One Who Is The One makes an appearance and shares some interesting information. Number one, he says, this was totally his plan all along. (Sounds fishy.) Number two, there's another prophecy—a longer one, in six parts. It predicts all sorts of strange and seemingly contradictory events, including visits to the five levels of reality, the execution of the Allgood family, and some sort of power merge between Whit, Wisty, and an unknown third party. (Him?) With those cryptic comments, The One leaves.
Whit and Wisty go back to child rebel HQ and regroup. Eventually they go out into the world to see what has become of their home. It's not there (it was demolished by the N.O.), but they do run into the astral projections of their parents, who are in a magical hideout at an undisclosed location. They're super proud… but not very forthcoming with information.
As if all that weren't enough, there's one more small thing: The unusual structure of the book means that it opens and closes with a scene from the future—the execution of the Allgoods, a moment in time that occurs after the events described in the rest of the book. The family is about to be hung in front of a stadium full of people, and as you can imagine, they aren't much looking forward to it.