Charlie St. Cloud retreated from life five years ago, immediately following his high school graduation, when he was involved in a vehicle accident which claimed the life of his younger brother, Sam. Before the accident, he had much promise in his life, receiving a sailing scholarship from Stanford which he never used. His retreat from life not only is because of the guilt and grief over Sam's death, but a promise borne out of that grief that he makes to the visible-only-to-him spirit of Sam following Sam's funeral: that they meet every day at sunset in a small clearing in the woods next to the cemetery to play catch. Charlie even ends up living and working at the cemetery as its grounds-keeper, which becomes his entire focus in life. It isn't until Charlie reconnects with a high school acquaintance, Tess Carroll, an up and coming world class sailor, that Charlie begins to come back to the real world, but not at the expense of abandoning Sam. An incident with Tess and the death of an old friend shows Charlie what he should do in this tug-of-war between the living and the dead.