In August 1941 Hiroko, eighteen years old and torn between her mother's belief in ancient traditions and her father's passion for modern ideas, leaves Kyoto to come to America for an education. To Hiroko, California is a different world - a world of barbecues, station wagons and college. Her cousins in California have become more American than Japanese - and Hiroko also finds a link between her old and new worlds when she becomes friendly with Peter, her uncle's university assistant.
But on December 7 1941 Pearl Harbor is bombed by the Japanese, and within hours, war is declared. Suddenly Hiroko has become an enemy in a foreign land. Terrified, begging to go home, she is ordered by her father to stay. But as the military is empowered to remove the Japanese from their communities, Hiroko and her Californian family end up in the detention centre, where they fight to stay alive amid the drama of life and death in the camp.