Times of War
When the story opens, we learn that the main character, Henry Lee, is growing up during World War II. Because he's Chinese, people are often openly hostile to him because they assume he's Japanese—especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yes, it's racist, and yes, it's rough. Making things even rougher for poor Henry is the fact that his parents desperately want him to only speak English… even though they only speak Chinese. Henry's life takes a turn for the better when he shows up at school one day and learns that there's a new student—a Japanese American girl named Keiko. Finally it looks like there's a friendly face in his world.
Getting Cozy With Keiko
Keiko and Henry quickly become fast friends. They work in the kitchen together at school (they're both scholarship students) and hang out together after school. They both like jazz, so Henry introduces Keiko to his friend Sheldon, an African American man who plays sax on the streets.
One day, Sheldon gets a gig at the Black Elks Club playing for a famous jazz musician named Oscar Holden. Keiko and Henry sneak in to hear him play, and Oscar Holden plays a song just for them called "Alley Cats" because they hid in the alley before gaining entrance. Even though things between Keiko and Henry are great, though, they can't relax because things are getting pretty bad for Japanese Americans.
Things get really bad when President Roosevelt makes a declaration and the government starts sending Japanese Americans to internment camps. Henry is outraged on behalf of Keiko and her loved ones, but his father thinks this development is a good thing. Dude's pretty racist, too. This causes a rift in Henry's relationship with his father, and he defies his parents in order to go see Keiko, and then writing and visiting her after her family is moved to an internment camp. During one of his visits, Henry declares his love to Keiko and tells her that he'll wait for her on the outside, no matter how long it takes.
Nobody ever said love was easy, and that's the case for poor Henry and Keiko, too. Although Henry continues to write to Keiko faithfully, she never seems to get his letters, nor does she write him back. Heartbroken and confused, Henry eventually moves on and ends up dating a Chinese American girl named Ethel, who becomes his wife and later the mother of his child, Marty. When Henry's father dies, he finally finds out that the reason he never received letters from Keiko was because his father stopped them from coming. He wanted to break the two lovebirds up, and it worked.
Finding the Way Home
In the end, Henry falls out of touch with Keiko and spends his life happily married man to Ethel—well, until she dies of cancer. Then, when Marty learns about Keiko, he encourages Henry to reach out to her again. Even though many decades have passed, at the end of the book, Henry reunites with Keiko and—phew—they still recognize each other as kindred spirits.