When the book begins, Tengo and Frikkie are two young boys on Oom Koos's farm. Frikkie visits on holidays to escape the grinding boredom of the school term, and Tengo lives there with his family. Over time, Tengo comes to see more and more that their friendship is hesitant and tenuous due to the imposing laws of Apartheid, and wants to know more. He cannot understand why Frikkie does not like school when there is so much to learn. He desperately wishes to go to the city and get an education. To quench his thirst for knowledge, Selina asks for books from Mrs. Miller. Tengo receives them and loves them, but they only make him want to know more.
Over the course of this book, Tengo is also learning more about Apartheid and how it functions. His cousin Joseph, who lives in the squalid township of Johannesburg, visits one day and tells Tengo of the evils that must be faced every day there. Tengo's eyes are opened after this conversation, and through several more events, he is determined to go to Johannesburg to get an education. He gets permission and leaves for the city. He finds that the city is smelly and noisy like Frikkie said it would be.
In Part becomes a much more active member in the fight against the white regime. About four years later than Part One, Part Two details more closely on Tengo's life in Johannesburg, and only briefly visits Frikkie as he is serving his mandatory term in the army. Tengo is receiving tutoring from Rev. Gilbert, and living with the Millers for a time. Soon, however, more and more protests break out in response to stricter rules set by the white government, and Tengo's school is shut down. He now has a choice to make: should he choose education and try to matriculate to college, or join the demonstrations against Apartheid? He wants to continue his education, but does not see how this is possible - at least, not until Joseph returns and offers him a chance to go overseas and be schooled. As Tengo tries to make the decision, the army is sent out to stop the erupting riots, and Frikkie arrives in Johannesburg as an enemy to Tengo and his fellow blacks.