Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again is a stunning novel-in-verse from debut novelist Thanhha Lai. Ten-year old Ha’s father has been missing in action for nine years when her family must flee Saigon, leaving behind everything she knows. Heartbreakingly, she knows she might never see her father again or find out what happened to him.  The family must  voyage by ship and it is dangerous and miserable.  There is not enough food, water, space, or bathroom facilities. In fact, the family barely makes it onboard the packed ship! Eventually, the refugees are rescued by an American ship, which tows them to a refugee camp in Guam. The family must decide where to go from Guam and Ha’s mother chooses America.  In order to go to America, they must be sponsored by an American family. When a “cowboy” (in Ha’s eyes) rescues them, they move to Alabama.

Alabama is not home and is nothing like Saigon.  On her first day of school, Ha has her hair pulled by her American classmates, who want to make sure she is real.  She and her brothers are bullied, and none of them are able to explain how smart they are and what they learned back in Vietnam.  As immigrants, they are looked down on and often ignored.  Lai’s spare verse evokes such emotion that I found myself with tears in my eyes on many pages.  This book is a must-have for any teacher dealing with bullying in their classroom/school.  Lai’s story is based on her own childhood (read more here) and I can imagine some amazing conversations that will be started by this book.

Inside Out and Back Again is a stunning, lyrical debut from author  Thanhha Lai.  While it seems like it is being marketed to MG readers, I want to stress that this is a book ripe for high school classrooms, too.  The close look at bullying and being an outsider should be required reading for all children.  Lai’s poetry ensures that the story wil grab even the most reluctant reader.  And her humor and sensitivity will have readers coming back for more.

Highly recommended for all readers!

*ARC courtesy of the publisher

4 Responses

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