Inside Out and Back Again is an award-winning debut novel written in free verse by Thanhha Lai. The book received the 2011 National Book Award for Young Adult fiction and it’s also a 2012 Newbery Honor Book for Young People’s Literature. The author dedicates her book to “the millions of refugees in the world,” hoping that they will “find a home.” This is a novel that tugs the heart based from the author’s memory of what she and her family has gone through before the fall of Saigon (former name of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). Her experience was told through the eyes of the book’s main protagonist, Kim Ha.
The book follows the story of Ha and her family, her mother and three brothers, as they left the city and moved to the United States to escape the looming war in Vietnam. The family’s father has been away for 9 years now fighting in the war, with them having no idea if he’s still alive, and despite all their doubts about leaving him behind they made the decision to leave. Staying will only mean them being caught and killed. They anchored their hopes in the belief that in the future they will see each other again by the promises that they made with each other. They set sail with other families to a land with an uncertain future.
After a long wait in a refugee camp in Florida waiting for a sponsor tho help them start, a sponsor finally came and helped them settle in Alabama. Settling in a foreign land did not become as easy as what they imagined. At only ten years old, Ha was faced with a lot of adjustments specially at school. Her family’s experience moving in a strange land was also far from being better than hers. From language barrier, homesickness to loss and cultural differences, what follows is the family’s struggle and triumph as they adjust to an odd environment far different from whey were from, a culture far different from what they got used to and a a home that will never be the same again caused by a news that tested the bond of their family. Will they be able to stand the transition?
“Oh, my daughter,
at times you have to fight,
not with your fists.”
― Thanhha Lai, Inside Out & Back Again
I have this fondness in reading novels written in verse. The first that I read in verse was Ellen Hopkins’ Tilt and from then I told myself it’ll not be the last book that I’ll read in that form. I like how it evokes more emotions in me. Free verse has this way of better portraying a mood. I find the style to be more emotionally moving maybe because of how lyrical and artistic they can be. The writing is very easy to read but is compact and intense when it comes to depth. In this book, with just few words, the author was able to breath life to the characters. It is complex and offers a vivid description of the emotions of the characters and the setting.
Lai’s main Character, Ha, offered a natural innocent voice that speaks how it feels to be physically and verbally humiliated because she’s different and how it feels like to move to the US during the 70’s when racial discrimination’s presence was still so much felt. Told through first-person, the readers were given the chance to be inside Ha’s head, about her dreams, fears and wishes, as she tried to cope with changes. Ha’s voice also offered learning insights about the Vietnamese culture and society. This is not just another immigrant story.
The book is a semi-autobiography of a journey as to how a family’s life was turned inside out by the war and then how they settled in a foreign land by overcoming hardships and eventually getting back on track. Engaging and significant, this book will also make you reflect about your life, if you are using the freedom to it’s full potential.
I recommend this book to everyone who wants to get started with reading books written in verse. How I wish it could be longer.
4 stars out of 5.
What book/s in free verse form have you read and enjoyed? Have you read this book and enjoyed it too? Let me know your thoughts. 🙂
Author: Thanhha Lai
Part of a Series: No
Release Year: January 2013
No. of Pages: 288 pages
About the Author
Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam. At the end of the war, she fled with her family to Alabama. There, she learned English from fourth graders. She then spent the next decade correcting her grammar. Starting her writing life as journalist, she worked at The Orange County Register. She switched to fiction, leading to an MFA from New York University and short story publications in various journals and anthologies. Lai lives with her husband, daughter and a little white dog in New York City. (About the Author text courtesy of Goodreads)