Vada Sultenfuss is obsessed with death. Her mother is dead, and her father runs a funeral parlor. She is also in love with her English teacher, and joins a poetry class over the summer just to impress him. Thomas J., her best friend, is "allergic to everything", and sticks with Vada despite her hangups. When Vada's father hires Shelly, a makeup expert, in his funeral parlor, and begins to fall in love with her, Vada is outraged and does everything in her power to split them up.
A cowardly boy who buries himself in accident statistics enters a library to escape a storm only to be transformed into an animated illustration by the Pagemaster. He has to work through obstacles from classic books to return to real life.