The story takes place during the present time at a juvenile detention facility called Camp Green Lake in Texas, which is situated on a dry lake bed. It is always very hot because it never rains there. Camp Green Lake is officially a correctional camp for criminal teenagers that is mean to teach young boys discipline and respect. Digging holes serves both as a punishment and as a character-building activity. Camps like this are controversial because the methods used at such camps are often abusive. Young boys who have been convicted of a crime might be given the option to serve a certain time at Camp Green Lake instead of at a juvenile prison. No fence is needed to stop them from running away because there is nothing but desert around, which means that the boys would die before they could reach civilization. They sleep and eat and live in grey tents. The only cabin (and the only facility with air conditioning) is where the Warden lives, thus demonstrating her position of authority in the camp.
Eighty years ago, however, Green Lake used to be a beautiful place. It was a lively town right next to the lake, which was full of water and fish. The surrounding land was green and fertile, and peach tree orchards and onion fields were prevalent. Towering over the bustling town was a mountain with a peculiarly shaped rock at the top, which looked like a thumb sticking up into the sky. Hence, it had received the name “God’s Thumb’.
In addition to these two narrative strands and corresponding settings, there is also the setting in Latvia one hundred and ten years before the contemporary plot arc.