Jeanne, who successfully forces herself back to a childlike state, recounts hopes, aspirations, responsibilities, and disappointments from the point of view of her earlier self. Along the way to adulthood, she stumbles over more adversity than the average American child ever encounters. Manzanar becomes the unfair burden thrust on Jeanne's back by two nations at war. She remains flexible and resilient; her methods of escape reflect an ability to improvise. If Papa won't allow conversion to Catholicism, then dance lessons may be even better. If prayer won't produce apricots from the Almighty, maybe she should read more books and plunge deeper into the fantasy world of princesses and queens. Like Rapunzel letting down her hair, Jeanne uncoils the traditions that bind Japanese women to a rigid patriarchy. Her too-wide smile, which defeats a geisha and an odori instructor and infuriates her old-school father, defines the face of the all-American girl. More attuned to the sweater-clad World War II Betty Grables than mincing Japanese beauties or dramatic kabuki dancers, Jeanne picks her costume — a braided majorette outfit, baton, and white boots. The getup lands her one firm Caucasian female friend and a host of admiring males. For Jeanne, the lesson makes sense — give them what they want, but keep your distance.
The arrival of puberty puts Jeanne in a quandary — whether to fake a traditional Japanese femininity or compete for carnival queen. Her choice produces a paradox, the stereotypical bittersweet taste of an unfulfilling victory, which shoves her face-to-face with bigotry in the form of girls who patronize her Oriental heritage while planning a post-coronation party which does not include her. Jeanne omits the ensuing years which acclimate her to the Caucasian world and assure her that marriage to an Anglo and motherhood of Anglo-Japanese children are right and proper.