Everyone remembers the agony of school friendships. You like someone, they don't like you, you don't know the reason; your best friend is suddenly no longer your best friend; girls huddle in corners, whispering, and lockers are interfered with.
Teachers appear either blithely indifferent to the cross-currents of emotion, or spend more time than is strictly necessary in attempting to "help." Into this swamp of difficult relationships is catapulted Ellie, whose family has moved from Israel to 1980s Connecticut so that her father does not need to fight in Lebanon.
Poor Ellie is drowning. She speaks no English and school is a complete nightmare. She has no friends, her parents have their own problems, and her little brother is too young to understand. All she clings on to are the letters she writes and receives from her best friend in Israel. Even they are not much of a comfort after a few months, since it is plain there is no longer an Ellie-shaped hole in her friend's life.
But then she meets Thuy, the clever daughter of a family of Vietnamese refugees. Thuy's English is good and she is a dedicated scholar. Carefully and slowly Ela Thier (who appears in the film playing Ella's mother) unpicks the strands of friendship, trust and acceptance.
The two young girls are wonderful in their respective roles and the reveal at the end of the film – which I won't spoil – gives Foreign Letters an even more enjoyable frisson.