The novel opens, at a train station, with many of the Jenkinsville townspeople, including Patty, awaiting the arrival of the German POWs. The crowd watches as the POWs depart the train and file into the trucks, to be taken away to their prison camp. Patty is slightly disappointed in the lack of action of the event. She walks home after her afternoon at the train station and has lunch with Sharon, her younger sister, and Ruth, their housekeeper. Patty then makes a trip to her parents’ department store. Patty’s mother and father are rude and neglectful towards her.
One Sunday afternoon the Bergens decide to visit Patty’s grandparents in Memphis. Patty’s parents neglect Patty, during the car ride, and show much interest and favoritism in Sharon. When they arrive, Patty’s grandmother makes plans to take Patty out the next week and she gives her money with which to purchase books. As the rest of the family arrives, tension begins to grow. Patty’s mother, Pearl, is jealous of her sister-in-laws, and the attention her parents give her brothers. Pearl’s parents had never been too fond of Harry Bergen.
A few days later Patty observes as a truckload of POWs enter her father’s store. Patty notices Reiker, who is the only POW who can speak English. Patty decides to help Reiker pick out a pocket pencil sharpener and the two strike up a conversation. Before Anton leaves the store he purchases a faux diamond pin. Patty wishes that one day, the two will become friends.
During the summer most of Patty’s acquaintances had gone away to camp; she was left to play with Freddy Dowd one summer afternoon. They decided to play a game where they would throw rocks at the hubcaps of passing by cars. However, when Patty throws a rock at a car riding by, the rock goes out of control and breaks the car window. Patty asks Ruth to lend her the money to repay the car owners; but before she can walk into town to repay them, her father finds out what she did and beats Patty.
Throughout the lonely summer days, Patty had been working on setting up her hideout. One day as she is gazing out the window of her hideout, she sees Anton running along the train tracks. Anton had escaped prison camp and Patty offers him to stay in her hideout. Patty visits Anton everyday and brings him food. They talk and spend the days together.
Eventually the news breaks out that a POW has escaped. The people of Jenkinsville become apprehensive; the FBI goes to the department store to question Harry. Patty’s father told the FBI that he had a recollection of Anton but he did not remember too much about him. When Sister Parker looked at the picture, she remembered that Anton was the boy who had been talking with Patty. The FBI began questioning Patty; she told the FBI what she remembered about her conversation with Anton. However, instead of telling them that Anton had purchased the pin, she told them he purchased a straw hat like the rest of the prisoners.
Charlene Madlee entered the store in search of the Sheriff. Patty volunteered to show her to the Sheriff’s office. The two become friends and discuss their love of words. Patty notes that, one-day, she may want to be a reporter. The two decide to visit the prison camp and Charlene invites Patty to take notes and act as a reporter.
When Patty and Charlene return, Patty takes food and clothes to Anton. She recalls a memory from Father’s day the year earlier: She wanted to get her father something very nice for Father’s day. She bought a nice, Egyptian cotton shirt, complete with her father initials embroidered on it. She envisioned that when she gave him the shirt, he would love it and take her in his arms. When Patty gave her father the shirt, he merely mumbled a ‘thank you’. She tried to emphasize the essence of the shirt but he shunned her, seeming annoyed. Patty decides to give this shirt to Anton.
As Patty and Anton are talking, Patty suddenly becomes very self-conscious. She gets angry with Anton because he has not asked her to come away with him after the war. Patty then feels that Anton is just being nice to her because she is protecting him.
Freddy Dowd came over to play with Patty after she left the hideout. Her mother and father come home and see Patty, far away from the house and with Freddy; her father beats her again for disobeying him. Patty sees Anton run out of his hiding spot toward her and her father and she screams for him to return.
Eventually Patty feels that she must chose between her father and Anton. She feels that if she turns Anton in, her father will gain publicity and then love her. During dinner that evening, Patty was asking her father about his day and he snapped at her, telling her to be quiet and stop asking so many questions; her decision was made.