Bill Sackter struggles to cope after his best friend and guardian, Barry Morrow and his wife Beverly move away. Bill moves into a group home run by Mae Driscoll who teaches him how to read. Bill soon discovers his religious heritage, overcoming the fire that accidentally destroyed his small canteen business, and then travels to California to search for the Morrows.
Meet Joel Goodson, an industrious, college-bound 17-year-old and a responsible, trustworthy son. However, when his parents go away and leave him home alone in the wealthy Chicago suburbs with the Porsche at his disposal he quickly decides he has been good for too long and it is time to enjoy himself.
The film portrays a fictional nuclear war between NATO forces and the Warsaw Pact that rapidly escalates into a full scale exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union, focusing on the residents of Lawrence, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, as well as several family farms situated next to nearby nuclear missile silos.