A Rare Thing is a story of redemption and forgiveness. In the small New Mexico town of San Carlos in the 1950s and 60s, a motherless Chicano youngster Javier Jimenéz, finds himself forced into an early manhood. The boy's father, Nicolás, a Korean War veteran, drinks himself into the depths of alcoholism, struggling through life wallowing in self-pity. Javier tries his best to cope not only with his own loneliness but the day-to-day hardships of living with an alcoholic father.
Into this setting enters Deborah Perkins. She moves into Javier’s neighborhood. Javier and Deborah eventually fall in love, much to the chagrin of Deborah’s mother, who doesn’t’ share her husband’s fascination for Southwestern culture and believes her daughter can do much better than what Javier has to offer.
Tragedy strikes, and Javier moves to California to live with an aunt and uncle. Deborah and he struggle to continue their relationship despite the distance and Deborah’s mother’s prejudices. Confused and unsure of his future, Javier leaves college to join the Army and ends up in Vietnam, where he sees his fellow soldiers dying every day.
Reminiscing about his father, he must face his own mortality, as he grapples with his own identity. Nicolás’s spirit appears at a critical moment with words to give Javier strength. Contemplating the real possibility of his death, he reconciles with himself, gaining strength from visions of his father as a good man who had his share of bad luck. Javier comes to grips with whether he has forgiven him for his frailties and failure as a parent.