Inside Out and Back Again Hardcover – Feb 22 2011
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“Open this book, read it slowly to savor the delicious language. This is a book that asks the reader to be careful, to pay attention, to sigh at the end.” (Kathi Appelt, bestselling author of Newbery Honor Book The Underneath)
“Based in Lai’s personal experience, this first novel captures a childrefugee’s struggle with rare honesty. Written in accessible, short freeverse poems, Hà’s immediate narrative describes her mistakesboth humorous and heartbreaking; and readers will be moved by Hà’s sorrow as they recognize the anguish of being the outcast.” (Booklist (starred review))
“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.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“An enlightening, poignant and unexpectedly funny novel in verse. In her not-to-be-missed debut, Lai evokes a distinct time and place and presents a complex, realistic heroine whom readers will recognize, even if they haven’t found themselves in a strange new country.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“American and Vietnamese characters alike leap to life through the voice and eyes of a tenyearold girla protagonist so strong, loving, and vivid I longed to hand her a wedge of freshly cut papaya.” (Mitali Perkins, author of Bamboo People)
“Lai’s spare language captures the sensory disorientation of changing cultures as well as a refugee’s complex emotions and kaleidoscopic loyalties.” (The Horn Book)
“Ha’s voice is full of humor and hope.” (School Library Journal (starred review))
“In this free-verse narrative, Lai is sparing in her details, painting big pictures with few words and evoking abundant visuals.” (Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books)
From the Back Cover
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.
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.
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.See all Product Description
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Once aboard the ship, the family suffers from extremely close quarters and lack of food. The boat captain's unlucky snap judgement on the best escape route means that their journey is drawn out much longer than they had anticipated, necessitating rationing. People grow ruthless and hoard what little food they have. The ship is rescued by Americans, and the families make their way to the States. Salvation? Hardly. Ha and her family end up in Alabama in the early-70's, with racial tensions at an all time high. After everything she's been through, Ha must endure appallingly racist bullies at school, as well as condescending teachers, who don't understand that just because she hasn't learned English perfectly yet, that doesn't mean that she isn't a bright and extremely observant girl. Ha is desperately homesick and finds heavily-processed American food disgusting compared to the fresh papayas and traditional Vietnamese fare that she is used to.
At this point, I really began to wish for some sort of break from the unrelenting sadness of the story - whether by comic relief, or a sympathetic character to lighten the tension. I had hoped that Ha's neighbor, Miss Washington would fill the bill, but even though she's kindly and means well, ultimately she comes across as a dotty old lady who doesn't quite get it.
A semi-autobiographical story, this book is simultaneously difficult to read, and very accessible. The four "chapters" it's broken into: Saigon, At Sea, Alabama, and From Now On, neatly break up the action. The emotional turmoil that Ha goes through makes this book quite challenging indeed, but the words flow so smoothly it's hard not to get drawn in to the tale. The writing was wonderfully crafted and made reading about the immigrant experience completely compelling. As powerful, arresting and in some ways just as sad as The Bridge to Terabithia, Inside Out and Back Again could definitely be a Newbery contender.
I really enjoyed this book and think readers in grades 4-7 will love it, too. It'd be great as a classroom read-aloud or for literature circles. Consider recommending it along with CRACKER: THE BEST DOG IN VIETNAM by Cynthia Kadohata and ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, an equally beautiful novel in verse by Ann Burg,as a way to explore Vietnam from different perspectives. It would also be fantastic paired with Katherine Applegate's HOME OF THE BRAVE, which is also an immigrant story in verse, from the point of view of a boy from Africa. Both books are short and poignant, and readers will come away with a much better understanding of what it feels like to land in a strange, new world and try to make that place home.
Usually I am not a big fan of novels written in free verse. I like my poetry to be poetry and my stories to be prose. But I have had the privilege of reading this book and several others that have convinced me that done right, free verse can be particularly powerful. This story is based on the author's experiences as a child and maybe that's why they are so realistic. I promise you will not be able to read this book without feeling compassion for Ha and her family. You will cheer for their successes and feel discomfort at the poor treatment they receive from many. The book provides a thought-provoking look at a topic (immigration) that remains controversial still. Highly recommended.
Although, the book Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, looks as if it is a book of poems, it has all the essential elements of a novel. The necessary elements for a novel are characters, a setting, a plot, and a theme and this novel definitely has them. Not only that, it has a traditional story arc, which always contains a recognizable beginning, middle, and end. Finally, Inside Out and Back Again has chapters, just like a novel would. Every novel needs characters and a setting. Some characters in this novel are Ha, her family, Pink Face, Steven, Pam, The Cowboy, Mrs. Washington, and the other kids in Ha's school. Ha is the protagonist, and Pink Face is the antagonist. This novel also has a setting; as a matter of fact it has several. A few of them are Saigon, Guam, Florida, and Alabama. Since the chapters identify where the next setting will be, they are especially important in this novel. As the story unfolds, Ha is moving to the U.S.A, because she was fleeing her home, which is Saigon, Vietnam in a small boat. Escaping in a tiny boat was dangerous, especially during war time. Further evidence of a plot in this novel may be found when Ha is challenged by the issues of life in a new school and the problems she has to learn how to face, like when the kids in her school chase her and then Pink Face pulls her hair, the first time he ever assaulted her with anything except his words.
Every novel has a theme, and this "Collection of Poems" has one, too. A theme is very important because that is pretty what Ha needs to learn. For example, when Ha has gotten dried papaya as a present, but she doesn't like it because it wasn't the same as the papaya in Saigon, so she just threw it away. When she wakes up the next morning, she feels guilty, and then she finds the dried papaya on the table. Ha tries it, and she thinks, "Not the same, but not bad at all" (pg 234). The theme in this novel is introduced when Ha starts being bullied in school. At first she expected that people would change for her. But, they didn't.
During this time she has a few choices on what to do; she could do nothing, she could ask for help, she could fight back, or she could accept her new home and adapt to it. She first chose to do nothing and ignored it. Ha was too proud to ask for help, but her friend Mrs. Washington knew how Ha felt, so she helped her without being asked. Later, when Pink Face pulled her hair, Ha couldn't take it anymore and fought back. She felt powerful for the first time.
Inside out and Back Again has the necessary elements that every novel needs. This novel has a story arc, because it has an exposition, rising action, conflict, climax, falling action, and resolution. Every novel needs chapters and this one does and in this novel they are extremely important. It is common for people to have expectations about how things should look. If people think something looks different from what they expected, they feel something is wrong with it. Just because it doesn't look like a novel doesn't mean it isn't one. Just because a dried papaya doesn't look or taste like a papaya from home, doesn't mean it isn't one. This is when Ha learns that just because her new home doesn't look like Saigon, doesn't mean she can't make it one. If she chooses to.
What I liked the most about this book is that Ha is not overly optimistic about all that has happened. Shes upset, mad, and scared. Her family helps each member through it, but it isn't easy. In fact, at one point, she says she would rather live in war torn Vietnam than in peaceful Alabama. She struggles with feeling stupid when she used to feel smart back at home. I loved when her teacher (whose son died in the Vietnam war) bonds with Ha and begins to protect and help her. I love that Ha is still just a child and has to learn to deal with her anger, stubbornness and even fear of school bullies... all feelings which every single person can identify with. I have never read a book written in prose before, but I loved this one.
"I count up to twenty.
The class claps
On its own.
Unable to explain
I already learned
And how to purify
So this is
I hate, hate, hate it." (P. 157)
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