Thursday, June 2, 2011

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai - Review

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again
Thanhha Lai
HarperCollins Children's

Ha and her family are forced to move from Saigon to Alabama.  They not only leave behind their life experiences and their belongings but also Ha's father who was captured by the military.  They haven't seen nor heard from him in years and are afraid that, if he is alive, he will never be able to find them in America.

In Saigon the family is mostly happy but very poor.

Yam and manioc
taste lovely
blended with rice,
she says, and smiles,
as if I don't know
how the poor 
fill their children's bellies.

And the high cost of everything without any additional money coming in combined with the encroaching war is what convinces the mom that leaving is their best bet.  Their father's military connections land them a coveted spot on a naval ship. All is not well in America.  The family is ostracized and Ha is bullied at school.

Things will get better,
just you wait.

I don't believe her
but it feels good
that someone knows.

The brothers and the mom look for work and try to support themselves, not wanting to depend on the American who "sponsored" them, especially since he didn't really want a family.  Throughout the parts in Alabama, we also listen in as Ha learns English with all of it's confusing rules.  This helps to lighten the story somewhat.

Historical fiction works well as a verse novel.  The spareness of the prose makes the images seem more stark and heartfelt. The story takes place over one year, opening and closing with Tet, the lunar new year.  Ha's wishes on both these days help to solidify the changes we see happening to her over the course of the novel.

Possible Pairs
All The Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle
The Red Umbrella by Christina Gonzalez


  1. What a beautiful way to tell a hard story. I like the concept and the cover. I should probably pick this up. Thanks for the review!

  2. I am reading it right now. I love novels in verse.


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