Just finished: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Here’s the blurb:

Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. 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 . . . and the strength of her very own family.

My thoughts:

Oh, how this book squeezed my heart. The struggle’s of Hà’s family contrasted with her vitality and sense of humor was just perfect. I actually read the book through twice. Once for the story and a second time just to savor the words.

I went to one of those schools where taking History classes essentially meant that you learned the same bit of history each year because they barely got past the Civil War most years and even World History was a little sketch. I’ve always made an effort to find stories that filled in the gap of my knowledge of history and this did that in a beautiful way.

Hà is smart and sarcastic and full of life. Her brothers each have their own personalities which are revealed more slowly but no less thought is given to their individuality and their wholeness. Because the story is from the point of view of a child, there is a sense of an oncoming train that as an adult I knew what was going to happen and just wanted to delay it for her sake, for the sake of her family. But they are swept away by events, and they do not get a warm loving welcome to the U.S. Much like the current Syrian refugees must feel coming to the States now.

I highly recommend this for parents who are trying to help their kids understand how their actions can hurt or help others. With that comes the caveat that kids in military families may have a hard time with it because of Hà’s father being lost to a military conflict. I would highly recommend this to anyone who is looking for a way to introduce poetry to their lives, adult or child. Having that continuous narrative makes the verse easy to approach and understand, but each poem carries its own weight and rhythm and story as well.

Overall: 5 stars


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