Akiko "Jane" Thompson, a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian woman in her midthirties, is attempting to forge a quietly happy life in the Bay Area with her fiancé, Shiro. But after a bizarre car accident, things begin to unravel. An intruder ransacks their apartment but takes nothing, leaving behind only cryptic traces of his or her presence. Shiro, obsessed with government surveillance, risks their security in a plot to expose the misdeeds of his employer, the TSA. Jane's mother has seemingly disappeared, her existence only apparent online. Jane wants to ignore these worrisome disturbances until a cry from the past robs her of all peace, forcing her to uncover a long-buried family secret.
As Jane searches for her mother, she confronts her family's fraught history in America. She learns how they survived the incarceration of Japanese Americans, and how fear and humiliation can drive a person to commit desperate acts.
In melodic and suspenseful prose, Guthrie leads the reader to and from the past, through an unreliable present, and, inescapably, toward a shocking revelation. Block Seventeen, at times charming and light, at others disturbing and disorienting, explores how fear of the "other" continues to shape our supposedly more enlightened times.