Kim Hà, or Hà as she is called throughout the book, is a young, ten-year-old girl who lives in Saigon, Vietnam. She is a feisty girl who is very determined and strong in nature. In the midst of war, her family begins to experience difficulty in their homeland and are faced with the decision of moving away and becoming refugees. This diary records her thoughts as the family makes their way across the ocean to the United States, including reaching a camp, sailing on a ship, and being housed in a common area to be "adopted" by an American family.
Unfortunately, it seems that even their new home in Alabama is not without problems of its own. Hà begins to feel very misunderstood and alone. To make matters worse, her teacher does not understand how to help her and she begins to be bullied. Finally, by the end of the novel, Hà meets her sweet neighbor Mrs. Washington and two dear friends at school. These new relationships, along with encouragement from her mother, helps Hà to see that even though things are different, they are not bad. As her attitude improves, the novel ends on a note of positivity and returns to Hà’s determined personality.
Overall, this is a narrative written in poetic verse that traces the steps and experiences of a young girl undergoing great adversity. The reader gets a peek into her mind to see how she portrays the different aspects of becoming a refugee.