After losing both parents to a flu pandemic that seriously threatens his own life as well, thirteen-year-old Cole Vining is sent to live with an evangelical pastor and his wife in Salvation City, a small town in southern Indiana. There, Cole feels sheltered and loved but never as if he truly belongs. Everything about his new home is vastly different from the secular world in which he was raised. As he tries to adjust, he struggles also with memories of the past, a struggle made more difficult by the fact that he had lost his parents at a time when family relations were at their most fraught and unhappy. How is he to remember them now? Are they still his parents if they are no longer there? Must he accept what those around him believe, that because his parents did not know Jesus they are condemned to hell? During this time, Cole finds solace in drawing comics, for which he has a remarkable gift, and in fantasies about being a superhero.
Salvation City is a story of love, betrayal, and forgiveness. It is about spiritual and moral growth, and the consolation of art. It is about belief—belief in God and belief in self. As others around him grow increasingly fixated on the hope of salvation and a new life to come through an imminent rapture, Cole imagines a different future, one in which his own dreams of happiness and heroism begin to seem within reach.