INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN
Lai, Thanhha. 2011. INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN. New York, NY: HarperCollins Children. ISBN 978-0-06-196278-3
2. PLOT SUMMARY
Hà is not an ordinary ten-year-old girl. Growing up in Saigon, Vietnam, during the war has been hard, but she loves her life anyway: her mother, her brothers, and her papaya tree. Saigon is all she has ever known, so when her family is smuggled out of the country right before it falls, she is devastated. Still, Hà does her best to look forward to a new life in Alabama. America brings an entirely new set of problems, however, for she is not like the other children there; even as she struggles to learn the difficult language of English, she fights to be accepted while keeping a tight hold on her heritage.
3. CRITICAL ANALYSIS
INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai is an emotional journey told through free verse poetry. From the first few pages, readers immediately get a sense of Hà: only ten, a girl wishing to be a boy, impetuous and smart, who loves her family immensely. It is Hà we journey with, along with her mother and brothers, as the book starts in Saigon and ends in Alabama. Although having a novel written in verse could be restricting, Lai pulls it off beautifully. It is undoubtedly a fast read, but the language flows well, and readers can still get a good picture of the story unfolding with the sparser-than-usual descriptions. In a way, it might take even more control of language to be able to write in verse, and especially to do so in such an effective manner.
Lai handles the war well, able to show both sides without really condemning anyone. Hà longs for her country, and having a non-native telling the story brings a new perspective to America and its peculiarities. While some events seem contrived (her brother riding up on a motorcycle to Hà’s rescue at the end, for instance), mostly the novel rings with sincerity and heart. This is definitely a delightful book with a strong, very believable main character. As a final note, the cover is absolutely beautiful, and sure to draw attention.
4. REVIEW EXCERPT(S)
Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, 2011
Newbery Honor book, 2012
Review in BOOKLIST: “Based on Lai’s personal experience, this first novel captures a child-refugee’s struggle with rare honesty. Written in accessible, short free-verse poems […]”
Review in PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY: “The taut portrayal of Hà’s emotional life is especially poignant as she cycles from feeling smart in Vietnam to struggling in the States, and finally regains academic and social confidence. An incisive portrait of human resilience.”
*While Hà is easy to relate to, this story brings up many questions of diversity and ethnicity. Good questions to ask would be how to deal with and understand others from another country or who speak another language.
*While each poem is connected to one another, the book is still written in verse; it gives readers a new medium to explore, and could perhaps get children interested in poetry who haven’t looked at it before.
*Other books about war, immigration, or family:
Senzai, N. H. SHOOTING KABUL. ISBN 1442401958.
Meyer, Susan Lynn. BLACK RADISHES. ISBN 0375858229.
Park, Linda Sue. A LONG WALK TO WATER: BASED ON A TRUE STORY. ISBN 0547577311.
*Other books written in verse:
Hopkins, Ellen. CRANK. ISBN 1416995137
LeZotte, Ann Clare. T4. ISBN 0547046847.
Hesse, Karen. ALEUTIAN SPARROW. ISBN 1416903275.