Eleven-year-old Sara and her family are spending five months in Hawaii, but Sara is having trouble adjusting to what should be paradise. She can't seem to make friends at her new school, and she misses her teacher and classmates back in Boston. On top of everything, she feels distanced from her parents, who are busy worrying about her grandmother's health and seem to be neglecting Sara and her brother Sam. That's why, even though their parents forbid it, Sara and Sam start taking care of an injured wild cat they name Broccoli. Their constant attention and patience with the wary creature ultimately wins its trust and affection.
Out at the "rescue rock" where Broccoli lives, the kids meet another outsider: Eddie Nutt, a local kid whose temper and automatic mistrust make him hard to like at first. But Eddie, it turns out, has family problems of his own, and gradually he starts to turn to Sara and Sam. The three become friends, and without always knowing how, help each other through the difficulties to come: the death of Sara and Sam's grandmother, the seeming rejection of Eddie's father, and even the death of Broccoli.
This many-layered story is told with engaging immediacy in the form of transcripts of cassette tapes Sara makes to send her class in Boston. As Sara becomes comfortable talking into the tape recorder, she finds herself choosing to record even those things too personal to share with her class — she'll erase those parts later, she explains, but it feels good to say them out loud. Sara's tapes are part of an "Oral History" project, something which warrants discussion in the classroom — ask your students to discuss what oral history is, and whether or not Sara's contribution fits the bill.