A woman's place is in the home—or so society thought until the dawn of World War II. In November of 1942, the young war bride Josephine (Jo) Troyer takes the same first step as tens of thousands of women across America—she begins working in a war industry. This life-changing step leads her down the path toward independence and self-reliance, redefining her role as a woman, and a true understanding of love.

Like most factories across America, those in the Midwestern town of Blooming Grove switch over to war production shortly after the nation's entry into World War II. The inexperienced Jo begins working at the least-skilled position in a factory that now manufactures amphibious landing craft. As a woman working in a factory, she must cope with disapproval from her in-laws, work garb she deems not suited for a woman, and expectations from men of easy sexual conquest. But Jo quickly proves her skill and aptitude for factory work, earns the respect of her coworkers, and is promoted.

It is through her work at the factory that Jo meets Rosalind Abe. Rosalind, who goes by Roz, is a tough city-girl raised in Chicago. She takes Jo under her wing and shows her how to tap her inner strength and to emerge from the shell Jo developed growing up in the Blooming Grove orphanage. Roz helps Jo to discover and enjoy life as an independent woman, and the two become best friends. But throughout her friendship with Roz, the irony is never lost on Jo that her best friend is Sansei—a third-generation Japanese-American—and her Marine Corps–husband is fighting the Japanese Empire in the South Pacific.

During a night out with Roz and her girlfriends, Jo meets Peter Messimer. Pete is the foundry crew chief at the factory. He is known about town as a fun-loving man and a skirt chaser, but Jo quickly discovers the real man is much different from the irascible legend. She draws Pete into her friendship with Roz. As their friendship strengthens, Pete shares with Jo how he dealt with the loss of his twin brother in World War I in an effort to help her cope with the fear of losing her husband to the war. After Roz is torn from her, Jo becomes even closer to Pete in the absence of her best friend. She soon discovers the difference between a love of passion and the love of friendship. She also realizes love is not something that can be rationed between two men. Which love will she choose?