Rye's life changes when his father is appointed as governor of one of the new penal colonies. With his parents, he moves to the island, where he expects to be the only child among colony officials, prisoners, and the native people, the offlanders. However, there are two other children there: Kris, who is the son of the offlander chief, and Stefanie, the daughter of one of the prisoners.
The three become uneasy friends despite their parents' very different agendas, and realize that they don't have to follow in their parents' footsteps. Through their friendship, they try to find a way forward for all the people of the island....