At 4:30 a.m. one January morning, seventeen-year-old Tom helps his family quietly leave their small town of Mumbilli, Australia. They have to move because of the town’s anger towards Tom's older brother Daniel, who, while driving drunk, recently caused a car crash that killed two people and permanently paralyzed their cousin, Fin.
Daniel and Tom had once been an unstoppable pair on the rugby field and often led their school, St. John's, to victory. However, in the months before the accident, Daniel's mean streak and love of alcohol had begun to cause serious behavioral issues. Tensions rose further as Fin suddenly matured into a handsome young man and skilled rugby player himself. Daniel's girlfriend, Claire, grew to prefer Fin and be terrified of Daniel.
The night after a big match, the St. John’s team held a party. There, an extremely drunk Daniel got angry after Claire broke up with him. He proceeded to start a fight with Fin, making Tom so angry that he chose to walk home by himself. Soon, though, Tom learned that Daniel had crashed his car while leaving the party. Daniel was fine, but two other students died. Arriving at the scene, Tom found Fin trapped in the car and comforted him all night.
Daniel pled guilty to all charges and was sentenced to five years in jail. People in Mumbilli began saying that no sentence would make up for the others’ deaths, however, and spray painted cruel messages on the Brennans' house. One victim’s parents wrote the Brennans a letter insisting that Daniel had long been an accident waiting to happen.
To escape the town’s scrutiny and abuse, Tom's family moves to Coghill to stay with Gran—who is obsessed with Catholic saints and also a horrendous cook. Mum has become deeply depressed and now spends all of her time in bed, neglecting her other children as well as her personal hygiene. Tom, meanwhile, has no interest in joining his new school, St. Benedict's, rugby team: they're no good, and he's not excited to play without Daniel. Regardless, on Australia Day Dad convinces Tom to go to a touch rugby game after lunch. There, Tom feels free for the first time in months.
Tom and Kylie start school the next morning. Tom gets Michael Harvey, the rugby coach, for homeroom. Upon later going to check his email in his uncle Brendan's cabin, Tom sees that he has a message from his Mumbilli friend Matt. He tries to reply, but doing so only makes him think of Fin. Tom decides to try again later.
At dinner, Gran and Dad try to give Tom a pep talk about making friends and force him to go with Brendan to see Fin and his mother, Aunty Kath, the next day. Before Tom and Brendan leave the next morning, Brendan asks Tom to pick up a box from his coworker and boyfriend Jonny's house. Jonny's sister, Chrissy, answers the door and hands over the box, believing it is for Tom's granddad. Back in the car, Brendan explains that the woolen items in the box belonged to Chrissy's own father, who had died of pneumonia after a massive stroke.
The visit with Fin is difficult and exhausting. Afterwards, everyone pretends that Daniel and Fin are fine. Mum, who is up for once, invites Tom to lie with her for a few minutes; Tom is disgusted, as Mum smells like an old person. After leaving Mum, Tom learns that Kylie told her new friend Brianna about the accident, and he's angry that she's spilling family secrets.
At school, Tom starts to hang out with other rugby players. On the day that Harvey announces tryouts, Tom decides to join the others at the local pool. When the man at the gate tries to joke with Tom about being short on change, Tom is gripped with fear—he believes the man will punish him for his relationship to Daniel. Tom has a great time in the water nevertheless, until he talks to Chrissy and she asks about his (nonexistent) granddad.
The next Saturday, Tom calls Matt. They talk about rugby, but Tom ends the conversation early. After tryouts later that week, Dad is enthusiastic, but Tom is disenchanted. He's assigned half-back, his old position. The following weekend he goes with Brendan to see Daniel in prison, and is shocked to see his brother dressed as an inmate. As they discuss Daniel's potential move to a crisis center, Daniel breaks down and starts frantically apologizing. Brendan comforts Daniel, who immediately asks Tom about rugby.
The next week, Daniel moves to the crisis center and Tom starts to run in the mornings with Brendan. They run up "the ascent," a steep mountain, and talk about Daniel. Tom starts to feel better until he returns to Gran's house one morning to find that Aunty Kath is visiting while Fin moves to rehab. Tom later finds Kath in the kitchen when he gets home from school, furiously cooking and upset that Mum isn't helping. The next day, Kath loses it with Mum and accuses her of neglecting Tom and Kylie in her grief. At church on Sunday, Tom is shocked to see Mum attend. He also thinks his rugby teammates aren’t so bad and realizes he has a crush on Chrissy when he hears her sing.
Soon after, Tom decides to make a scrapbook for Daniel’s birthday. When he starts to go through Gran's old albums, however, he finds one that begins with newspaper clippings about the accident. It takes Tom several days to pick his project up again.
During lunch one day at school, Tom has the feeling that people are whispering about him; after school, Rory and Jimmy tell him that Kylie gave a speech in class in which she told everyone about what happened in Mumbilli. Tom panics and runs home, calls Kylie names, and then finds Brendan. His uncle is sympathetic but tells Tom that nobody in Coghill really cares. Tom doesn't believe this until Saturday morning, when he sees no cruel graffiti in town as he and Dad drive to visit Daniel. His older brother is thrilled to receive the scrapbook and tells Tom and Dad about his new mentor, Jerry.
Fin decides he wants to have a birthday party at his rehab center. The night before, Kylie apologizes to Tom for the speech and tells him that she overheard Brendan saying that Chrissy thinks Tom is cute. The party the following day is awkward and difficult for Tom. Fin makes snide comments about rugby and about the birthday cards he received from Mumbilli residents. The next day, the Brennans receive word that Daniel's mental health has taken a turn for the worse.
One afternoon, Brendan tells Tom they're going out to dinner with Jonny and Chrissy; Tom will shower at Jonny's house. Much to Tom's embarrassment, he burns himself in Jonny’s dangerously hot shower and in the ensuing chaos Chrissy sees him naked. He enjoys dinner regardless, as does Chrissy.
Footy camp is the next week. Tom feels like an outsider at camp and detests the teambuilding activities. He briefly discusses the upcoming match with St. John's with his teammates, but he mostly keeps to himself. On Wednesday, Dad finally pulls Tom aside and tells him that Bennie's is giving him a chance to use his talent. Dad also suggests that winning isn't the most important thing about rugby. Tom throws himself into practicing as he mulls over Dad's words.
After camp, Dad and Tom visit Daniel. Tom tells Daniel about Dad's pep talk, but Daniel isn't convinced that there's more to rugby than winning. Tom knows this isn't true: rugby at St. John's wasn't fun because the team didn't actually act like one. Regardless, Daniel is doing better; he's helping Jerry mentor Theo, who's in jail with similar charges to his own. Mum seems to be getting better as well.
A few days later, Brendan asks Tom to think about climbing Mount Everest over Christmas. Tom is finally feeling good about life; he helps Bennie's win their match that day and, at dinner with Jonny, Chrissy, and Brendan that night, he agrees to Brendan’s proposal. He comes home, however, to find Kylie hacking at her hair and crying. She tells him that she secretly helped Fin start seeing Claire right before the accident and therefore, blames herself. Tom comforts her and fixes her hair.
Tom tries to distract himself from the upcoming match with St. John's by visiting Brendan, but he discovers his uncle drunk and crying in his cabin. They don't mention it on their run the next day, but Brendan does encourage Tom to ask Chrissy out and leads him to a swimming spot on the river where he once brought Daniel and Fin. Tom then asks Brendan to help him build a chicken coop for Gran so she can have her beloved chickens again.
Over the next few days, Tom and Chrissy talk more about her dad and about Fin. Tom is anxious about the match with St. John's, but Bennie's does their best to support Tom. They play relatively well but in the last ten minutes, a few St. John's players shout "killer" at Tom. Bennie's loses, and Chrissy helps Tom escape. They kiss in her car out in the bush.
For the upcoming school holidays, Tom's family spends a week helping Aunty Kath furnish her new flat for Fin. Tom discovers that Dad is funding a lot of this in an attempt to repay Kath for what Daniel did. One afternoon, Tom and Fin go for a walk. Fin admits that he doesn't hate Daniel and he would like to see him soon. Tom, Chrissy, and Brendan build the chicken coop and a week later, Gran cries when Tom presents her with it.
Tom's visits Daniel the day before his birthday. He realizes that no matter what Daniel did, he still loves his brother and is glad he survived. Daniel has heard about Tom's exceptional rugby playing and compliments him. For Tom's birthday, Gran gives him the plane tickets for Nepal. The next weekend, Tom agrees to meet Chrissy at the river. They swim together and have sex and Tom feels truly whole again.