Kimberly and her mother arrive in America from Hong Kong. They moved in with Aunt Paula who had been in America for a few years. While Aunt Paula seemed eager for them to arrive, when they are actually in her house, she seems to think she’s better than them. She ultimately finds a run-down apartment for Kimberly and her mother to live in. While the apartment doesn’t seem safe, it’s in a bad neighborhood and infested with rats and cockroaches, Kimberly and her mother attempt to make the best of the situation. Ma is able to get a job at the factory, but she needs Kimberly to come help her in order to finish the work in time every night.
Aunt Paula forges the address that Kim lives at so she’s able to go to a nicer school. Unfortunately that means that Kim is late for her first day of class, because neither her or Ma had been that far in the city. When Kim does find her way to the classroom, the teacher, Mr. Bogart, isn’t happy she is late, and he speaks with an accent that she can’t understand. Things are even more complicated when she goes to the lunch room and has to select food in the lunch line. Kim just nods, since she doesn’t know what the options are, and she felt like she hadn’t eaten afterward since there wasn’t any rice.
After lunch, Mr. Bogart hands out a pop quiz. Kim isn’t sure what to do, so she looks at another girl’s paper. Mr. Bogart views this as cheating, so he gives her a zero. When she tries to explain, he seems to mock her accent and attempts at saying sorry.
After school, Kim goes to the factory. She can’t talk to Aunt Paula long because Aunt Paula doesn’t want the other workers to think she’s showing favoritism. Instead of visiting, Kim and Ma go to the back and began to work hanging up pants. The factory is dusty and hot, but Kim finds a piece of Chinese newspaper and is happy to finally have something to read.
Kim then meets a boy named Matt who also helps out in the factory. Matt introduces her to the rest of the factory kids, but they aren’t able to relax long, because if they don’t help their parents get the work done, none of them are going to get to go home.
Kim finally tells Ma about Mr. Bogart being mean to her. Ma offers to talk to him, but Kim doesn’t want Mr. Bogart to be mean to her mother as well, so she says that she’ll work harder. Instead of working harder though, Kim skips school for the next week. She goes back to the apartment and watches TV, trying to avoid the mice and roaches by sitting in the center of the bed. At the time when she would usually get out of school, she heads to the factory so Ma wouldn’t know that she hadn’t been to class.