Eleven-year-old Nathan McClelland hates the fact that everything is changing in his small farming community, now that the countryside is turning into a coalfield. His best friend just moved away and immigrant miners have built shanties where his farm used to be. To his parents' dismay, Nathan befriends a young immigrant boy named Arturo, who walks back and forth across his lane every day on his way to the coal mines. Nathan decides to help Arturo become a real American--the kind of friend he thinks he wants--but soon discovers that he and Arturo have more in common than he realized. When an accident befalls Arturo, Nathan must challenge traditional ways of thinking in order to come to the aid of his friend.