| Enter a West Oakland neighborhood where thirteen-year-old Ryo is luckier than many because he has a mother, Tracy, who loves him and surrounds him with other caring adults to compensate for his lack of a father. Tracy must work endless hours in Brownie's cafe, with little time off to spend with Ryo. During meals at the cafe, kind-hearted Vietnam veteran, Brownie, and his regular customers offer Ryo advice and support, marveling at his intelligence and common sense, which set him apart from his neighborhood peers.
Of course Ryo cannot remain unaffected by his surroundings. Hanging out with his best friend, his "homey" Chipmunk, a fat boy who still manages to be an ace on a skateboard, Ryo begins to see no way out. Dressed in shabby clothes, he endures the sneers of rich white "squid kids" at the mall while window-shopping a skateboard he cannot afford. Far beyond recreation, a board is a safe way to navigate the dangerous streets. "There's all kinds of ways to be hungry," Ryo thinks. "An' money seem to be the only thing what fill you up." There is only one way to get the money to escape from his city cage with his mother -- by working for drug dealer Big Bird.
Sensing Ryo's talents, sixteen-year-old Big Bird grooms him for inside work, giving special treatment that includes a ride in Big Bird's Piper Cub airplane, which is beyond Ryo's wildest dreams.
Despite his bedazzlement, however, Ryo soon becomes disenchanted with Big Bird's "rock house", which speeds boys as young as eight into crack addiction. How else, though, can Ryo earn a hundred bucks a day toward his dream? It takes Chipmunk's death in a drug run to propel Ryo to destroy Big Bird and so save himself.