November "Ember" Edwards is not a witch. She can't successfully perform a single spell, which would be a total non-issue except that everyone else can. Ember is what The Ravendale Finishing School for Young Sorcerers labels a "dud", a weak link in the gene pool, and if she wants to graduate, get a job, have a life, she’ll first have to face the ultimate final exam—the culling.
For generations, young, non-magical students have been banished to the woods, left to survive a series of trials that will force them to either summon their latent magical abilities…or die trying. Thankfully, Ember isn’t alone in facing this fate. Her boyfriend, Ren Hargrove, is also a dud, and Ember thinks they have a decent shot at survival if they stick together. But that's easier said than done when she meets Caden Rowley, an outsider who curiously appears in the woods. Ember's not sure if she can trust him, but she also can't stop thinking about him, especially when he causes her to feel the first sparks of magic she's ever known—something she's learning she can't live without.
With only weeks to go before graduation, Lucy Girard appears to have it all—a comfortable spot on the social food chain, a summer of freedom in wait, and a stellar GPA that’s earned her early acceptance to her college of choice. But things start to unravel when Lucy wakes from a wild night of partying to find an entirely uncool and oh-so-permanent tattoo on her shoulder—a crude sketch of a beast straight out of a fantasy role playing game. Chocking it up to exceptionally poor judgment, Lucy is blindsided when a real live version of the monster tears the door down at best friend Monica’s birthday bash, and Lucy is cornered before somehow summoning the skill to fend the monster off.
Clearly Lucy’s ink was no drunken mistake. She’s been marked as the descendant of Agrona, the Celtic goddess of slaughter, abruptly called to duty as the fabric that separates our world from the banished realm begins to tear. Lucy has zero interest in some ancestral calling, especially as more unwanted tattoos begin to take shape across her body, marring her perfect skin with forerunners of battles she’s destined to fight. But as much as she didn’t ask for this, Lucy finds she can’t turn her back on the people she’s been charged to protect, even as she’s branded a freak by her so-called circle of friends. Beauty may be skin deep, but these markings run much deeper and if Lucy wants to live to see graduation day, she’ll have to accept that growing up sometimes means standing on your own.
Louise Dunn hasn't recognized the world around her since the morning after her brother Neil's senior prom, when she discovered his drowned body on the front lawn, with no explanation for how it got there. Buried beneath a grief she can't seem to surface from, she stumbles through the ensuing summer, seeking solace in anything that can't get inside her head. Then she discovers a hidden journal in Neil's room, along with a stack of unfamiliar comic books, and everything changes.
It was no secret that Neil was gay. He'd come out the year before his death. But as Louise delves deeper into his pastimes and relationships, she discovers that maybe she didn't know him as well as she thought, and what's worse—things might've been different if she had. Between a series of unsettling encounters with Neil's ex, and a sudden, unexpected connection with Matt, the fanboy clerk at the local comic shop, Louise finds she's increasingly unable to ignore the tragedy that's slowly suffocating her, and the walls she'll have to tear down before she can start to live again.
Virginia (Ginny) Walters is completely in love with her boyfriend, Malcolm. Unfortunately for her, so is her best friend, Alden. But Ginny realizes it a little too late—the pair have already fallen for each other, leaving Ginny a heartbroken wreck just as school lets out for the summer.
She finds ways to cope; immersing herself in her part-time job, and indulging a surprise summer fling with Seth, the hot boy next door. She even makes an effort to resuscitate her friendship with Alden, but it’s not without its challenges. Malcolm had been her world before he abruptly ended things to get with her BFF. There’s a lot of damage to repair. But then the situation deteriorates further when Malcolm suddenly goes missing, and Alden’s behavior suggests she might’ve had something to do with it.
Despite her deepening relationship with Seth, Ginny becomes obsessed with finding out what really happened to Malcolm, spying on Alden only to discover she doesn’t know the girl she grew up with nearly as well as she thought. And what’s worse, Alden now seems to have her sights set on Seth, inciting Ginny to do whatever it takes to prove her increasingly disturbing suspicions—even if that means stopping her former best friend for good.
When Harper Donnelly’s best friend, Chloe, moves out-of-state halfway through their senior year, she figures things can’t get much worse. But then Nan, her grandmother and sole guardian, falls ill, throwing Harper’s life into chaos. Doing the only thing she can think of to lighten Nan’s burden, she dives into the family business shuttling tourists from the airport, an effort that brings her into regular contact with Chloe’s cute ex-boyfriend, Luke, whose family owns a local inn.
Harper has never been particularly fond of Luke, but with Chloe gone, she starts to see a different side of him, and the two stumble into a friendship that unwittingly deepens into something far more intense. Their secret isn’t so hard to keep—it’s even kind of exciting—until Chloe unexpectedly returns for the summer, and Harper suddenly finds herself torn between the guy she’s definitely falling for, and the best friend she swore she’d never betray.
Eighteen years ago, they left earth, unsure if they'd ever be able to return. Now, it finally seems possible—until they realize what's been waiting for them...