It is just prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941, California. Like so many others, Cassies family has left a home and lifestyle hampered by economic depression and immigrated here to find work in the defense plants and live in a housing project. It is a long way from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
School is on double session with forty children in each section of the fifth grade. There, Cassie and Miko, a Japanese-American, have found each other and become best friends. Mikos family owns and lives on a farm, but being Japanese carries for them problems that Cassie, at first, cannot understand. Seeing the war as the key to his dreams, hating the Japanese and bigoted towards Italian, Spanish and Jewish people, Cassies father undermines their father-daughter relationship by ordering her to end her friendship with Miko. He also forbids Cassies mother to work even though she is lonely, homesick and suffering from boredom.
With the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Cassies life changes: father is drafted, goes off to war and is killed; Mikos family is sent to an internment camp in Utah; mother goes to work; Cassie assumes more home responsibilities and learns about rationing, coupon books and the Black Market. She builds a new friendship with Maria, a quiet, sensitive, Spanish classmate. Through Mikos letters she glimpses life in the internment camp. The Atomic Bomb becomes a reality.
At the wars end, Miko returns to a strained reunion with Cassie. Understanding Cassie, their own friendship and Cassies guilt feelings about distancing Miko, Marie sparks the rekindling of Cassies and Mikos friendship. Although things have changed, they have somehow stayed the same. Now there will be a friendship of three.