Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai

Intended to be semi-autobiographical, this novel in verse tells the story of Hà, a young Vietnamese girl.  She lives a happy, although somewhat deprived, life in Saigon with her two brothers and mother.  Their father disappeared while on a military mission and hasn't been heard from since, but the family is hopeful that he will return.

As the Communist forces from the north approach, however, it becomes clear that their home is no longer safe.  Because Hà's father was in the military, his family (with many others) is entitled to passage on one of several ships which will stealthily leave carrying refugees.  The story follows their family to a camp in Guam, and then to another in the United States, before they are finally sponsored by a family who wants one of Hà's brothers to work in his auto garage.

Hà has a great deal of difficulty adapting to her new home in Alabama.  She is only gradually learning English.  No one in her school looks remotely like her.  The neighbors avoid her family, and she is bullied by classmates.  But with the help of her family and a few kind friends, she is able to carve out a home for herself, even though it will never be like the home she left.

Although I think this story could have been told equally well, and perhaps more fully, if not in verse, the sparse prose does seem to emphasize Hà's difficulty in finding the words to understand what is happening, and her inability to communicate with people.

1 comment:

  1. I've read so many good reviews of this, but my students are NOT fans of this one. Middle school students usually don't want to read books in verse.