In the midst of a dystopian future, there is something out there driving people insane just by looking at it. The only way to survive is to cover your eyes. A mother and her two children seek a safe haven but to get there they have to cross twenty miles of river while blindfolded. And something is following them...
The novel provides examples of:
- Apocalypse How: Planetary-scale societal collapse, at least presumably. The failure of mass media makes it hard to ascertain how the rest of the world is doing.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: Discussed. The creatures don't physically harm people and it's unknown whether or not they intend to cause harm.
- Bittersweet Ending: After risking life and limb, Malorie and the children make their escape to a new shelter, only to dicover that the place itself isn't actually much safer than the house. Most of the people living there have gouged their own eyes out to make it impossible to look at the monsters. Sighted people still have to hide from the creatures. Still, Malorie and her children now know that there are other people alive in the world, and they're no longer completely alone.
- Brown Note: The creatures' appearances serve as this.
- Cozy Catastrophe: Part of the book plays out like this, when Malorie finds a congenial group of strangers to stay with. It's brutally put to an end with Gary's arrival.
- A Dog Named "Dog": The children are referred to only as "Boy" and "Girl", both in the narrative and by Malorie. Malorie finally names them near the end of the story, after Tom and Olympia.
- Eldritch Abomination: The creatures fall into this category from what little we know of them.
- End of the World as We Know It: People live confined to their shelters, with the windows blocked. Whenever they venture outside, they wear blindfolds. After her housemates have died, Malorie raises two children by herself and several years later, she does not even know if there are any other survivors left on Earth.
- Eye Scream: Malorie comes across people who have gouged out their own eyes to prevent them from seeing the monsters.
- Go Mad from the Revelation: Witnessing the creatures drives people and animals alike into murderous and then suicidal insanity.
- Good Is Not Nice: Malorie has to raise her children this way. She often feels regretful about it, but she reasons that the children cannot afford to make mistakes when they venture out into the world.
- Hope Spot: Malorie finds other people. Though she learns that many in this community have blinded themselves, but the hope spot has not been entirely dashed: she now knows that there are other sane people who have survived in this new world.
- Nerves of Steel: Gary considers himself to possess this. He may also just be too crazy to drive any crazier. Either way, he seems immune or resistant to the sight of the creatures.
- Nothing Is Scarier: A large chunk of the book is spent with Malorie and her two kids as they cross the river while blindfolded, relying only on their senses to navigate around danger. This trope comes into full effect as they are forced to imagine what might be out there.
- Only Sane Man: Invoked. Gary sees himself as this, and it leads to tragic consequences.
- Shoot the Dog: Narrowly averted. Malorie considers blinding her children as infants with paint thinner as a way to protect them, but she is unable to bring herself to do it.
- Super Senses: Malorie raises the two children from infancy to train their senses of hearing to the utmost, to help them survive and navigate blindfolded.
- The Unreveal: Despite coming within a hair's breadth near the end of the book, Malorie never sees the creatures - luckily for her.