Adventurous Elvia Hill is fed up with her overly cautious parents, who lost her older sister, Jane, to cancer. They protect Elvia, never allowing her to take risks or do anything fun. She feels trapped, but when her mother wins a lottery—round-trip airline tickets for a wildlife safari—her luck improves. Her parents are worried for her safety in the African bush, but Elvia’s thrilled, so they take her along anyway, hoping for the best.

To the Hills’ horror, their worst nightmare unfolds. Elvia disappears, apparently snatched and eaten by a lion! A massive search ensues, involving a bushman tracker, a delusional lion expert, a witchdoctor, a sham DNA testing company, and a kind, local couple who run an organization called Parents of Swallowed Children and are keen to help.

The search comes up empty, though, and for good reason: Elvia’s not where they think she is. She’s on a distant two-mooned planet, instead, having a grand and glorious adventure, cruising aboard a luxurious submarine with a queenly “uppy” and a lively sailor-boy-pirate with the unlikely, but fun, name of Rats!

At first, Elvia’s escapade is so exciting that she forgets about home. But when a terrible crisis unfolds aboard the boat and she’s the only one who can save the day, she must bravely face the same terrible fear that her parents have been avoiding since Jane’s death. And she discovers, too an even more powerful, singular emotion that opens her heart and transforms her troubled family forever.