In The Lost Garden, Lawrence Yep writes about his Chinese American childhood. The story is set in San Francisco, Yep's hometown. Yep and his parents and brother do not live in Chinatown, however. They make their home in a non-Chinese neighborhood where Yep's father owns a corner grocery store called La Conquista.
The family lives in one of the Pearl Apartments on the top floor of the same building. Much of the action takes place in the store, in the Yep home, and in the neighborhood. Yep does his chores, working with his brother in the store, and plays in the neighborhood. The area is getting dangerous, though, and gangsters are a common concern. Throughout the story, readers meet colorful characters like Mo-mo (the unofficial guardian of La Conquista), the junk man Saul, and truck driver Jimmy.
Yep does go into Chinatown all the time to visit his grandmother and to attend classes at his Catholic school, so part of the story is set there as well. Later, he attends Marquette University. All along, Yep learns discipline and develops a strong love for books and writing. He also comes to terms with what it means to be Chinese American, even though as a young boy, he does not want to be Chinese and feels as though he is caught between two cultures. His grandmother teaches him the importance of his Chinese heritage, and he eventually learns to treasure it.