What if a hospital was your high school, boarding school and summer camp rolled into one? What if it was the place where you fell in love for the first time and made friendships that lasted a lifetime? And what if it was all weirdly hilarious and the most fun you ever had in your entire life? This is the world of Red Band Society.
Twelve-year-old narrator Charlie is in a coma in the hospital. Charlie's friends and fellow patients include Jordi Palacios, a 16-year-old who illegally crosses the Mexican border into California to seek out treatment at the renowned hospital. What he soon discovers is that it's not his illness that's going to change his life, but his new friends. Also at the hospital is Leo Roth. At 16, Leo is charismatic and independent. But after living at the hospital for a year, he's starting to lose his way. When he's forced to room with Jordi, he's angry and resentful, until he realizes they are more alike than he could imagine. The pediatric ward is run by Nurse Jackson, a caregiver with a take-no-prisoners approach to getting these kids through the most difficult part of their lives. Overseeing much of the treatment in the ward is Dr. Jack McAndrew, the country's top pediatric surgeon.
Also attending to the patients is the naive and gullible Nurse Brittany Dobler, who allows the kids to get away with things they probably shouldn't. Among those taking advantage of Nurse Dobler is Leo's best friend, Dash Hosney. Suffering from cystic fibrosis, 16-year-old Dash is determined to live every day as if it's his last. Also on the ward is 15-year-old Emma Chota, Leo's on-again-off-again girlfriend, who suffers from an eating disorder. Rounding out this group of patients is 'mean girl' Kara Souders, a 16-year-old cheerleader who is brought in with heart failure and shares a room with Charlie. Daring everyone to up their game, she also goes head-to-head with Nurse Jackson. Although many young patients who are seriously ill make complete recoveries, that day seems a long way off for these teens. And as they confront questions of life and death which no one at that age should have to face, a kinship based on these shared experiences is created - a bond represented by the red hospital bands issued to them upon admittance.