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Inside Out and Back Again Hardcover – Feb 22 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins (Feb. 22 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061962783
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061962783
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.4 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 136 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #332,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


“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 child–refugee’s struggle with rare honesty. Written in accessible, short free–verse poems, Hà’s immediate narrative describes her mistakes—both 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 ten–year–old girl—a 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.

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Most helpful customer reviews

By Appreciator on Jan. 10 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a beautifully written book that takes you deeply into the experiences of the main character. I loved reading it and highly recommend it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 327 reviews
95 of 100 people found the following review helpful
Beautiful, sad, poetic May 8 2011
By Madigan McGillicuddy - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I love narrative poetry, and this book was no exception. At the height of the Vietnam War, 10 year-old Kim Ha is forced to leave Saigon with her mother and older brothers. Her father has been missing for several years, and the family continually hopes for his return. The decision to leave is heartwrenching, knowing that if they go, there will be no real way for their father to find them again, if indeed, he is still alive. Ha's mother gives her children the option of saving one thing... everything else must be destroyed, so as not to leave any evidence behind for the invading soldiers.

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.
44 of 45 people found the following review helpful
Lovely & thought-provoking June 21 2011
By L. K. Messner - Published on
Format: Hardcover
INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN is a beautiful novel-in-verse about a young girl who flees Vietnam as Saigon is falling and makes a new home with her mother and brothers in Alabama. Based on the author's own experiences as a child immigrant, the poems are spare and lovely, and they manage to capture both the sense of wonder and the feeling of isolation of a newcomer in a world where everything seems different. As a teacher, one thing I found especially interesting and heartbreaking was Ha's feeling of suddenly not being smart any more when she enrolled in her new school in America - such a common experience for gifted kids who encounter a language and culture barrier in a new home.

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.
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Inside Out & Back Again May 30 2011
By Heidi Grange - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Ha has spent all of her ten years in Saigon (Vietnam). She knows the markets, she does well in school, and she loves the papaya tree that she planted behind her family's house. But the war is creeping ever closer and her mother struggles to provide enough food. As it becomes apparent that Saigon will fall to the Communist North, Ha and her family make a painful choice to flee the country in hopes of finding refuge. When they land in America things seem to be working out, but as Ha struggles to adapt to a new language, a new religion, new climate, and new food, she wonders if it wouldn't have been better to stay in Vietnam. And what about the father she has never met who went missing nine years earlier?

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.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Why This Book is a Novel, Not just a Book of Poems June 22 2012
By ALH - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Acceptance Doesn't Mean Giving Up
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.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Absolutely loved this book Jan. 6 2012
By M. Fuller - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book is beautiful. I thought I would be a crying mess the entire time I read it, but thankfully it wasn't overly sad- despite the context. Ha is a young girl who paints a picture for us of what it was like living in South Vietnam during the war. While there is definitely danger, and money is tight and times hard are everywhere- she explains that she loved her life, her house, her papaya tree. Her family is able to escape after the country fell on a navy ship that is picked up by Americans. Her family is eventually sponsored (allowed to leave the refugee camp)and moves to Alabama, where they are all forced to start over, learn a new language and deal with a vastly different culture that is sometimes hostile and sometimes generous.

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.

I'm furious,
Unable to explain
I already learned
And how to purify
River water.

So this is
What dumb
Feels like.

I hate, hate, hate it." (P. 157)