In the prelude to the story, Jeff, a blond, clean-cut, thirteen-year-old boy and promising athlete is kidnapped at knife point from a roadside rest stop when he goes to get a drink with his sister Charlotte and little brother Brian.
Jeff Hart was kidnapped by a man named Ray, and has spent the past two and a half years locked in a dark basement. He was physically and sexually abused and forced to have sex with Ray if he wanted to eat.
Now aged sixteen, and too old for the abuser, Jeff has been released and returned home. Jeff narrates the story with comments on his thoughts and his abuse inserted in italics. Everyone wants to know whether he was abused or not - his family, the FBI and even his former best friend Vin. But Jeff denies anything happened. Jeff is withdrawn and difficult and his recovery is hampered by this state of denial. The problem is that Jeff is affected by the shame of not having hated the sex. Consumed with self-loathing and feeling unclean, Jeff refuses to cooperate with investigators and will not name his abductor.
Ray leaves the clothes in which Jeff was kidnapped on Jeff's front steps and Jeff washes them. His father says they should have been kept for forensic examination, but Jeff didn't want anyone to find out he had wet himself after the kidnapping. Ray later begins to stalk Jeff’s family. He talks to his father in public and Jeff still cannot bring himself to identify him.
Jeff returns to school, but refuses to let anyone see him with his shirt off because of the scars on his back. Gradually, Jeff's resistance breaks down. He then gives police Ray's surname. 42-year-old Ray Slaight is arrested and Jeff identifies him in a police line up. Ray admits to a sexual relationship with the boy, but denies kidnapping and denies using force. Nude pictures of the boy are found under the seat in Ray's car and it is all over the newspapers. Ray claims that the pictures were Jeff's idea. The news gets around school and Jeff is teased, even his friend Vin deserts him for a time, before stepping in to confront a bully. Jeff's sister Charlie stands by him too.
Jeff gradually comes out of denial and talks to his Dad about what has happened to him, releasing his anger and starting on the road to recovery. "He taught me to have sex with him the way he wanted it. That's what I learned, Dad. That was my education." Jeff goes on to talk about the hardest thing, "I gave in to him. I did what he wanted. Not once. Hundreds of times." Then he tells his Dad, "I convinced Ray that I loved him. I kissed him back. Do you get it? I kissed him back." His father then asks to see his back and Jeff realises the scars are not as serious as he imagined.
Finally, he says, "Yeah, I think I'm ready to talk."