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Title: Inside Out & Back Again
Author: Thanhha Lai
Publisher: Harper Collins
May Contain Spoilers
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.
I love books about different cultures or ways of life, and Inside Out & Back Again delivers up an emotionally enthralling account of a young Vietnamese girl’s flight from her home country to the US. As I read Ha’s adventures, recounted in simple yet moving free verse, I wondered what it would be like to have everything familiar ripped away. Before the fall of Saigon, life for Ha was happy and content, despite the growing hardships caused by the war. Her father has been missing in action since she was an infant, but her family still holds out hope that he will return home one day. She loves her family, she is doing well in school, and she is eager for her papaya tree to finally yield fruit. Her three brothers are happy, as well, and they are excellent students with bright futures ahead of them. Everything changes with the fall of Saigon.
Ha’s mother is trying valiantly to raise four children by herself, but life has gotten more difficult. It’s harder to make ends meet, and the price of everything keeps climbing. As the communists threaten Saigon, she has a family meeting and asks everyone what they should do. Should they flee, and try to built a new life in a country without Ho Chi Min and the war? Ha and her brother Thoi don’t want to go. How can they leave Ha’s papaya tree and Thoi’s chicken? The pain of leaving their most prized possessions was a bitter pill to swallow for a new life with no guarantees. I don’t think I could have done it. Photographs, clothing, memories; all were left behind in Vietnam.
I loved Ha and found her easy to relate to. She has been thrust into a new life that she doesn’t want, and one that doesn’t seem to want her. Her new neighbors in Alabama aren’t very neighborly, she can’t understand the confusing language she is immersed in, and her classmates mock and bully her. Her teacher doesn’t understand her and doesn’t try to make her feel welcome. Instead, Ha, a bright, curious girl, is left feeling stupid and ignorant. As she begins to pick up the language, she wishes she did not understand the names she is called or the jokes that her peers make about her. She is angry, justifiably, but there is no outlet for her rage. Ha is the one who must make concessions to fit in with a group of kids who can only see how she is different from them.
This is a quick read that follows one year in Ha’s life. Starting in Vietnam on New Year’s, Inside Out & Back Again chronicles her flight from Saigon, life in a refuge camp, and her eventual home in Alabama. I could not put the book down and I read it in one sitting. Highly recommended.
Available in Print and Digital
Review copy provided by library
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