Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again
Thanhha Lai, 2011

Challenge Book! Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016 - Read a middle grade novel

Premise: Hà is just a girl when she must leave her home, her country, and seek a new life in America. Follow her family’s journey through a series of poems chronicling the year 1975.

This was recommended by a friend who is studying children’s literature, and I can see why. It’s approachable and an easy read, but emotionally, culturally, and historically complex.

Lai is writing directly from her own experience, as she fled Vietnam with her mother and siblings at the end of the war. I think the author fully succeeds in her aim to convey the emotional reality of being a child going through that experience.

The narrative voice is shaped by the form, and the short, evocative phrases of the poems make tangible Hà’s ambivalence, her anger or sadness or worry, her hesitancy. They give the book immediacy in all the description of small details as well as a formal quality at times. That rhythm puts me in mind of the ceremonies the book opens and closes on, and the sound of some speakers who learned English as a second language.

Hà goes through a seemingly impossible transition, having to abandon everything and go from being a good student in a culture she loved to a refugee who doesn’t speak the language. She can only report what she observes and feels and knows, but it’s enough for an in-depth picture. I imagine that this book is a good way to talk to children of many backgrounds about what it feels like to be different.

It’s a beautiful little book with a lot of sadness in it, but some hope and optimism as well.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book


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