Thursday, February 9, 2012

Review: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Ha is ten when war comes to her home. She and her family leave Saigon on the last ship fleeing the city. Even after they land in the U.S. Ha, her  mother and brothers still feel adrift in a new and often hostile culture.

Inside Out and Back Again addresses war (in Vietnam), immigration, racism, bullying and family with simple verse. In each poem, Ha tells about her day, what went wrong and what went right. She talks about what it's like to learn a new language and what it's like to leave one's home not by choice but by necessity.

One feature that stood out for me was how simple cultural misunderstandings were dealt with by various characters. Some were willing to laugh and learn together while other characters let prejudice fuel cruel actions and prevent learning. Another interesting character interaction (or lack thereof) was between Ha and her teacher who seemed completely unequipped and uninterested in learning about Ha's situation and how best to help her feel comfortable and to learn.

Lai's book of free verse is told narratively, like a story, from Ha's perspective. So, don't let the poetry factor get in your way of reading this significant story which, Lai tells us at the end, is partially based off her personal experience. I tend to be critical of issue-oriented fiction and Inside and Back Again certainly is such a book; yet, I enjoyed it for it's rich description of setting and emotion and for the plain fact that it had a good story to tell. This book counts towards the POC Reading Challenge!

The above video is Lai reading her book. My favorite poem begins at 2:53!

Publisher: Scholastic, 2012     Pages: approximately 200
Rating: 4 Stars     Source: borrowed from my teacher =)

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed this one too. It seems like more and more novels are being written in verse - a trend that I love! One of my favorite poems was when someone (I think the cowboy?) tried to tell her that horses go "neigh, neigh, neigh" not "hee, hee, hee" and she thought, "No they don't. Where am I?" There are just so many things about being a native speaker of a language that we take for granted!