The story begins on Tet, the Vietnamese New Year in 1975. Kim Hà lives in Saigon with her loving family: mother and older brothers Quang, Vû, and Khôi. Vietnam has been at war for decades but Saigon remains under the control of the South Vietnamese government for now. However, it is only a matter of time before the war reaches her home.
Hà's father disappeared nine years ago on a mission for the South Vietnamese Navy. He is considered missing in action. They miss their father terribly and Hà's mother has to support the family on her own. It is very difficult as the war makes everything scarce. With the impending siege of Saigon by the North Vietnamese, people have begun evacuating. Hà's family must decide whether to stay or try to flee.
Hà's family makes the difficult decision to flee. They must leave everything behind except what they can carry in small backpacks. They board a South Vietnamese Navy ship that is repurposed for refugees with hundreds of others and sail for weeks with little food and water. Saigon falls to the North Vietnamese and South Vietnam is no more. They luckily make it to the United States where they are taken in by a generous Cowboy and his unkind wife.
Hà's family start over in America. They face hateful racism from their neighbors. English is difficult to learn. Hà is bullied at school. Hà confides in her mother that she is miserable and wishes they could have stayed in Vietnam. Her family and a few new friends help Hà to stand up to the main bully, Pink Boy.
One day when Hà's mother is at work, she accidentally loses her wedding ring. It was the last tie the family had to their father. They had always believed that he would somehow return but this misfortune seems like a sign for the family to accept his death and move on. Together they hold a traditional funeral ceremony for him.
The story ends with the the family celebrating Tet again in 1976. In Vietnamese culture, everyone is one year older on Tet and it is a chance to ensure good fortune for the coming year. Hà prays for her father to find a safe passage to his final resting place, for each of her brothers and her mother, and that she truly learns to fly-kick, not to kick anyone so much as to fly.