Monday, January 28, 2013

Inside Out & Back Again - Thanhha Lai

Summary:  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.  (Summary from back of the book and image from

My Review:  Beautifully written, well-crafted, and simply portrayed: I couldn't put the book down and raced through all 262 pages of its poetic formatting.  Inside Out & Back Again is the first book I have read that detailed what refugees endured from the first day back in their own country. I loved that it was told through the eyes of a child, one with family, history, education, and strife.  Her transition to the U.S. is so raw and so real.  It must have been incredibly hard to go from being one of the smartest in her class to feeling like the dumbest, going from looking like everyone else to being the only one in between black and white.  In the author's note at the end of the book she explains that she wanted to capture the emotions of the girl and she did just that.  I felt everything with her: the taunts, the embarrassment, the frustration, the guilt.  Her perspective mixes fact with feeling and pulls it off authentically, probably because much of what Ha goes through the author did too.

I would recommend this to any reader, not just a young adult.  In fact, I think I'd even recommend reading this to upper elementary students--although probably aloud so that we could discuss and answer questions that would arise.  While I think it shares a profound experience in a simple yet beautiful way, anyone can benefit from understanding how a life can be so altered by war.  I love the perspective it gives.  The only aspect I saw lacking was some closure at the end of how the girls life turned out.  I wanted to know what happened to her, what became of her.  Honestly, that's the only thing I'd change. 

For the sensitive reader:  Nothing offensive here.  Read away!

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Sum it up:  A poetic journey through a year of  war-caused tumult and change.

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