After a year of coming home to the smell of sauces just a tad too rich, and to his grandmother stirring with his mother's spoons in his mother's bowls, Raja grows to hate his home. You'd think a small space full of people wouldn't be able to have so many empty spots, but it seems everywhere he turns, there's another one.
When his teacher starts talking about how gifted students can be permitted to study in America, he signs up without a moment's thought. Not because it's a great opportunity for him, because it could make his career, give him new friends and new insights to the world. For all the great things the pamphlet promises him, the one defining factor is that he can leave.
He gets tired and angry about a lot of things in his new home. The other students in school and their mindless scorn of everything outside of their own tiny little worlds. The way Mrs. Tolchuk keeps flinching at things he does, even though she tries not to – now she tries not to, and he's grateful for the change, he really is, but it's still tiresome. Claire pretending that he doesn't exist. Justin being embarrassed of him.
In the words of the other students in school, it blows. Hard. But even at the worst times, even when he despairs and wonders what he's doing here at all, he takes comfort in knowing that it's okay to feel like an outsider, because he is one. This isn't really his home, he's a stranger, a freak, an anomaly, and if he feels like it, that's just as it should be. In a strange roundabout way, it means that he fits in.
The thought makes it a lot easier to be grateful for the things that are actually right. Justin's friendship – and he means it when he says he'd bring Justin to a desert island, because really, having just one friend makes all the difference in the world. The giving conversations he has with Paul. The interesting high school curriculum, even allowing for the fact that some of the teachers are remarkably ignorant. Mr. and Mrs. Tolchuk trying to make him feel at home.
It's always a bit off, but not quite belonging in a foreign country beats not quite belonging at home.