In the aftermath of the 1838 rebellion in Lower Canada, Sophie Mallory's father is wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment in Australia. But there is no question about what Sophie should do: with her guardian, Lady Theodosia Thornleigh, and Luc Moriset, she sets sail for Sydney. She finds Australia an outside-down country. The water goes down the drain the opposite way, half the population are (or have been) convicts. In one notorious incident, her father, Benjamin, and the Canadian convicts arrest police. Lady Theo even finds herself renting a house from her own servants.
Shortly after they settle in Sydney, Sophie and Luc make friends with the Hendricks twins. Luc quickly chums with Billy, but Sophie astonishes everyone. She loathes, despises, and abominates Polly. Luc despairs of her, and Lady Theo compounds the problem by sending Sophie to Polly's boarding school. When the school closes temporarily, due to an outbreak of scarlet fever, the girls rashly decide to make their own way to Polly's house in the country. Not surprisingly, they're kidnapped by bush rangers. During their escape, Polly's feet become dangerously infected when she jumps onto an oyster bed. Trying to avoid recapture, Sophie must make her way across Port Stephens in a one-oared rowboat to save Polly.
When her father and Luc's brother are pardoned, Sophie faces the biggest decision of her life to that point -- whether or not her place of exile will be here home.