Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Book Jacket

No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by...and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home.  Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope.  In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape...and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.


It is impossible not to compare Inside Out & Back Again to last year's Caudill nominee All the Broken Pieces.  They are both novels in verse centered around a Vietnamese child living in America after the war forced them from their home.

The main difference is this: while we got Matt's memories of life in Vietnam, we never actually saw him live there.  Inside Out & Back Again begins in Vietnam.  Ha loves her country, her holidays, her family, her papaya tree.  The war is an ever-present reality, but it does not make her love her country less.  We then travel with her out of Vietnam to Alabama.  Even there, Ha is very much a Vietnamese girl. 

I loved seeing her struggle with the English language (it really is ridiculous) and sassily tell her Cowboy that horses say "hee hee" rather than "neigh."  I felt for her when she burned with humiliation as her classmates applauded her ability to say the alphabet when in Vietnam she could do fractions and purify water. 

Bullying is a big theme here.  I hope that books like these will show the complete stupidity and heartlessness of mocking someone from another country.  Or course they are different.  They grew up in different place.  It is my hope that someday differences will be celebrated, and we can learn from cultures other than our own.

I loved Ha's story.  It is heartbreaking and hopeful.  The story could best be summarized in Ha's own words: "Not the same, but not bad."

Four out of five papaya slices.

Release Date:  February 2011
Reading Level: Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection: CAUDILL

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