Inside Out and Back Again

Inside Out and Back Again

4.4 186
by Thanhha Lai
     
 

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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

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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

Mary Quattlebaum
…Ha's voice feels wholly authentic…Lai's rhythmic free verse is rich with images both humorous …and poignant…These unforgettable poems offer a child's perspective on the fraught nature of starting anew.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Narrating in sparse free-verse poems, 10-year-old Hà brings a strong, memorable voice to the immigrant experience as her family moves from war-torn South Vietnam to Alabama in 1975. First-time author Lai, who made the same journey with her family, divides her novel into four sections set in Vietnam, "At Sea," and the last two in Alabama. Lai gives insight into cultural and physical landscapes, as well as a finely honed portrait of Hà's family as they await word about Hà's POW father and face difficult choices (awaiting a sponsor family, "...Mother learns/ sponsors prefer those/ whose applications say ‘Christians.'/ Just like that/ Mother amends our faith,/ saying all beliefs/ are pretty much the same"). The taut portrayal of Hà's emotional life is especially poignant as she cycles from feeling smart in Vietnam to struggling in the States, and finally regains academic and social confidence. A series of poems about English grammar offer humor and a lens into the difficulties of adjusting to a new language and customs ("Whoever invented English/ should be bitten/ by a snake"). An incisive portrait of human resilience. Ages 8–12. (Mar.)
Booklist (starred review)
“Based in Lai’s personal experience, this first novel captures a child–refugee’s struggle with rare honesty. Written in accessible, short free–verse poems, Hà’s immediate narrative describes her mistakes—both humorous and heartbreaking; and readers will be moved by Hà’s sorrow as they recognize the anguish of being the outcast.”
The Horn Book
“Lai’s spare language captures the sensory disorientation of changing cultures as well as a refugee’s complex emotions and kaleidoscopic loyalties.”
Kathi Appelt
“Open this book, read it slowly to savor the delicious language. This is a book that asks the reader to be careful, to pay attention, to sigh at the end.”
Mitali Perkins
“American and Vietnamese characters alike leap to life through the voice and eyes of a ten–year–old girl—a protagonist so strong, loving, and vivid I longed to hand her a wedge of freshly cut papaya.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“In this free-verse narrative, Lai is sparing in her details, painting big pictures with few words and evoking abundant visuals.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
“In this free-verse narrative, Lai is sparing in her details, painting big pictures with few words and evoking abundant visuals.”
Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“In this free-verse narrative, Lai is sparing in her details, painting big pictures with few words and evoking abundant visuals.”
Booklist
"Based in Lai’s personal experience, this first novel captures a child–refugee’s struggle with rare honesty. Written in accessible, short free–verse poems, Hà’s immediate narrative describes her mistakes—both humorous and heartbreaking; and readers will be moved by Hà’s sorrow as they recognize the anguish of being the outcast."
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books

“In this free-verse narrative, Lai is sparing in her details, painting big pictures with few words and evoking abundant visuals.”

Children's Literature - Claudia Mills
The year is 1975, the end of the Vietnam War, and Saigon is about to fall to the Communists. But ten-year-old Ha is grateful that her family is not among the wealthy who are fleeing Vietnam: "I'm glad we've become poor/ so we can stay." Even as she joins her mother and brother in grieving the absence of her father, missing in military action for nine long years, Ha savors the sight of the papayas ripening on in the back garden and the taste of sugary lotus seeds eaten for the New Year, with its promise of hope and joy. But before the new year is out, Ha and her family have become wartime refugees, trying to make a new life for themselves halfway around the world: "No one would believe me/ but at times/ I would choose/ wartime in Saigon/ over/ peacetime in Alabama." In haunting poems based on her own childhood experiences as a refugee in the deep South, Lai shares the sting of American ignorance and prejudice, the stigma of being thought "dumb" for not yet being fluent in the perplexities of English language spelling and pronunciation, the kindness of new friends, and the slow acceptance of inevitable change: "Not the same/ but not bad." Lai's poems have the stabbing specificity of the Vietnamese refugee experience, but also speak to any sensitive child wrestling with the necessity to compromise with wrenching, world-shifting transitions. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—A story based on the author's childhood experiences. Hà is 10 when Saigon falls and her family flees Vietnam. First on a ship, then in two refugee camps, and then finally in Alabama, she and her family struggle to fit in and make a home. As Hà deals with leaving behind all that is familiar, she tries to contain her temper, especially in the face of school bullies and the inconsistencies of the English language. She misses her papaya tree, and her family worries about friends and family remaining in Vietnam, especially her father, who was captured by Communist forces several years earlier. Told in verse, each passage is given a date so readers can easily follow the progression of time. Sensory language describing the rich smells and tastes of Vietnam draws readers in and contrasts with Hà's perceptions of bland American food, and the immediacy of the narrative will appeal to those who do not usually enjoy historical fiction. Even through her frustration with her new life and the annoyances of her three older brothers, her voice is full of humor and hope.—Jennifer Rothschild, Prince George's County Memorial Library System, Oxon Hill, MD

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780062069726
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/22/2011
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
12,149
Lexile:
800L (what's this?)
File size:
1 MB
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Thanhhà Lai was born in Viêt Nam and now lives with her family in New York.

Like the father in Listen, Slowly, Thanhhà has been buying bicycles for poor children in Viêt Nam since 2005.

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