Review: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

 

 

   Title: Inside Out & Back Again

   Author: Thanhha Lai

   Publisher: Harper Collins

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

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. 

Review:

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.

Grade:  A

Available in Print and Digital

Review copy provided by library

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Manga Review: La Quinta Camera–The Fifth Room by Natsume Ono

 

Title: La Quinat Camera – The Fifth Room

Author: Natsume Ono

Publisher: Viz

ISBN: 978-1421532196

 

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

An apartment in Italy. In four of the rooms live four single men with singular personalities. Into this peculiar ménage steps an exchange student, the new tenant of the fifth room. Brought together by chance, friends by choice, they pursue their dreams together as the days drift gently by.

Review:

Now, this is a treasure!  I don’t know why I let this book linger so long in the TBR pile, because it deserved to be read the second I received it.  Told through vignettes, La Quinta Camera follow the daily challenges and adventures of the tenants of an Italian apartment house.  Massimo, the owner, rents rooms to his best friends, and also hosts foreign exchange students for the local language school.  The story starts with Charlotte, who is having a Really Bad Day.  She has lost her bag, which had her money and the directions to the room she’ll be staying during her time in Italy.  Her first day in Italy isn’t going well!  As she meets friendly people willing to give her a hand, she begins to have a Really Good Day.  I loved this introduction to the characters, and I felt that I was getting to know them along with Charlotte.  By the end of the book, I was sad that our visit to Italy had drawn to a close.

The subsequent chapters build on the friendships and personality quirks of Massimo and his tenants.  This is an understated book.  There are no battles to the death, no political machinations, hardly any action of any kind.  And that is what sets La Quinta Camera apart.  This is a completely character-driven book, and it’s those characters that make it compelling.  As they go about their daily lives, facing the same challenges we all face, they become living, breathing beings.  Will Charlotte be able to make a life for herself in the country she has grown to love?  Will Luca get over his crush?  Will Cele make it to his own birthday party?  Will Massimo be able to find an inner peace as his life, and the lives of his tenants, continues to change and evolve? 

I had a hard time putting this book down, and when I reached to last page, what I really wanted were more!  Ono’s quirky, whimsical art was perfect for this book.  La Quinta Camera is an underrated gem, one that I am grateful I was finally able to enjoy.

Grade:  A

Review copy provided by publisher