ATSG is a magical realism (or modern fantasy, they’re both basically the same thing) novel. It features an ancient society formed during the time of the Mayans. The society’s people were called the Broken People by the Mayans because they claimed to be able to hear the gods, both the ones on the earth (called the little gods) and the ones in the sky (sky gods, so original ). In our modern time, these people would be called mentally ill. When one gifted child went to the Mayans to help them hear the gods, they sacrified her. Because of that, the sky gods no longer sang to the Broken People, until another gifted child was able to hear the gods at a young age (all the rest hear the gods or “show symptoms” at age twelve). The societies withdrew and hid themselves from the rest of civilization (this is after their time of exploration from Central America to North America and in between).

Most of the novel takes place our current era and two families figure into it. The first protagonist is Gabriel. His father met his mother when he stumbled into one of the hidden societies places (called nahil, pronounced “nile,” which is the Mayan word for home). He was threatened with death and Gabriel’s mother chose to help Gabriel’s father escape, effectively cutting her off from the nahil for the rest of her life. Normally, the Broken People don’t choose to leave. People are cast out, but only if they reach the age of 13 and haven’t heard the gods (which is pretty harsh if you ask me). Anyway, Gabriel has an older brother diagnosed with bipolar disorder which began at the age of twelve. Their mother suffers from an undiagnosed mental illness that she hides from everyone. Eventually, their mother decides to go back and dies in the process. Their father hides everything about their mother’s origins. Gabriel, on graduating from high school, chooses to enter a community service organization (akin to peace corps, raleigh international, or the jesuit volunteer corps) and is assigned to the country where his mother is from (he doesn’t know where she’s from, his father does). He manages to get some information and goes off to investigate while he’s there. Two kids follow him. They run into some guerrilas. The thing is, the Broken People, the ones who hear the gods, have gray-green eyes. Most of the time, they’re gray, unless they’re actively hearing something, then they turn green. So the guerillas realize this–and they really don’t like the Broken People and the legend. Bitterness, really. They kill the two children in front of Gabriel and leave him alive. Gabriel is sent home and to counseling (obviously).

Here’s where we get the second family. Gabriel’s psychologist’s name is Sophie. Her mother was one who was cast out of a nahil at thirteen. Sophie has no knowledge of this. Sophie has a twin sister named Ella, who has been diagnosed schizophrenic since she was age six.

The novel continues as an exploration of dreams realized and dreams taken away, family expectations, mental illness and its treatment in our society, as well as showing another society where it’s the norm, and the completion of the original myth.