Inside Out & Back Again is written by Thanhha Lai. It was published in 2011 by Harper.
“For all the ten years of her life, Hà 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. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà 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.”
What I Liked:
This is a novel in verse and it is very well done. My only problem with the book is that I wish there had been more of it. It felt far too short, in my opinion. Hà’s struggles seemed to be resolved far too quickly, but maybe I am too used to YA books that drag the main conflict on and on. I did like how the story was bookended by Tết and by the absence of Hà’s father. The symbolism, too, was very well done and conveyed very well through verse as it wouldn’t be through prose. I’m not overly fond of novels in verse, but this one was done very well and the verse was used to great effect for the most part.
The book is very good at remembering its audience, being lighthearted and humorous as well as sad and serious. Hà’s thoughts about English are hilarious, and despite the struggles she and her family have, there are some fun moments in as well (such as when she and her mother are at the butcher’s).
This book also covers an issue that is not very well covered in children’s through YA lit, which is the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese who traveled to America. I actually had no idea that American families sponsored Vietnamese ones. I can easily see this book being used as a supplement to a history unit on the Vietnam War.
Recommended Age Range: 10+
Warnings: Displacement and separation of families due to war, death.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
appears below deck,
wet and shaking.
He salutes the commander
At noon today the Communists
crashed their tanks
through the gates
of the presidential palace
and planted on the roof
a flag with one huge star.
Then he adds
what no one wants to hear:
Saigon is gone.
Inside Out & Back Again has some beautiful symbolism and Lai does a great job with the poetry, using it to great effect at different parts of the book. Hà’s first few months in America were well-balanced, with humor mixed in with the distress and displacement. I thought it should have been longer, but the symbolism of the book-ending is well done.
You can buy this here: Inside Out and Back Again