Friday, January 13

Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai, HarperCollins, 2011, 272 pp, ISBN: 0061962783

Ha is only 10-years-old when she escapes from Saigon to Alabama during the Vietnam war.

She must leave her father behind, not knowing if she will ever see him again, and travel on a boat to America.

Once her family has been taken in by a good-hearted Alabama "cowboy," Ha must begin the work of learning her new life: learning the rules of English, learning to make new friends, learning to come to terms with the fact that life will never be the same again.

Inside Out and Back Again is a completely lovely novel in verse. While it could easily be read in an uninterrupted afternoon, Thanhha Lai's story will linger for many days after the last page has been read.

The subject matter is weighty - war, immigration, death, assimilation - yet any reader, regardless of age, could pick this text up and find themselves consumed in Ha's journey. As Ha is only 10-years-old herself, Inside Out and Back Again would be completely accessible for an upper elementary or early middle school student. Students of all ages will easily relate to Ha's struggle to fit in, make friends, and do well in school. 

At the same time, this book will be much more meaningful for readers who have some understanding of the Vietnam War and the culture that Ha found herself in during that period. For this reason, I would be excited to see Inside Out and Back Again used as a class novel in a History classroom. Great MG/YA literature isn't just for English teachers! Imagine just how much more a class would learn, how much richer the discussions could be, if this text was used as a companion alongside a textbook. Now that is a class I would want to be in.

It bears mentioning that this book is somewhat autobiographical. Author Thanhha Lai also moved from Saigon to Alabama at the end of the Vietnam War. Her father went missing as well. Many of her own school experiences are reflected in Ha's first days in school. Reading with the understanding that Ha's journey didn't just bubble up from an author's imagination made her story all the more powerful.

For those who appreciate novels in verse,
for those who value stories that reflect real life,
for those creative, hard-working teachers who can take a book and bring it to life in the classroom,
Inside Out and Back Again is for all of you!

Quoteable Quotes:
To make it worse
the cowboy explains
horses here go
neigh, neigh, neigh
not hee, hee, hee.

No they don't.

Where am I?

a y is used
instead of an e,
even if
it makes more sense
for moldy to be spelled molde.

Whoever invented English
should have learned
to spell.


  1. Love this book. My favorite quote was when Ha finally starts to learn English and realized the kids are laughing at her:

    "I understand
    and wish
    I could go back
    to not understanding."

    That one really sank in my stomach.

    1. Yes! Oh gosh, I think my stomach sank again just reading that. Lai was amazing at packing so much feeling into so few words.

  2. Oh this sounds so insightful. I must look it up. Great review.


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