J.W. (age twelve) and his family move into the Dogwood Hollow section of Levittown in the spring of '54. He soon makes friends with Carnie, the neurotic son of a carnival barker, and Tinker, a mechanically inclined, vindictive kid with destructive tendencies. The three boys are picked on and harassed by older greasers from Kenwood, another section of Levittown.
In April of '54, the Fairless Hills Steel Mill opens, and the Caracas, a Venezuelan ship is carrying the first iron ore from South America up the Delaware River. Students from area schools are invited to wave linen American flags on sticks at the vessel. Four people in the front row accidentally fall into the Delaware River as the Caracas is passing by. Two of them are Angie Palermo and Bubbles Messina. The two girls and their families blame J.W. and Carnie for pushing them over the bulkhead into the river. The event causes future conflict between the girls and J.W.