Written in breathtaking verse, this book tells the story of H a, a ten year old girl, who escapes Vietnam with her family shortly before the fall of Saigon. Her father is missing, and her mother must lead the family to safety. This means leaving their beloved Vietnam, escaping by boat with hundreds of other refugees, and eventually being sponsored by a man living in Alabama. Inside Out & Back Again is a year in the life of Ha and her family.
I was skeptical at first. I wasn't sure if I would feel a connection to the characters. Would this story, written entirely in verse, allow me to feel for Ha and her family? My doubts were soon displaced by my strong connection to Ha, her three brothers, and her strong and clever mother. Each verse "entry" is done in chronological order, telling Ha's heartbreaking, yet sometimes funny story, of worrying about her father, missing her papaya tree in Vietnam, and her difficulties learning the English language.
Starting in Tet of 1975 and ending with Tet in 1976, author Thanhha Lai beautifully captures the challenged of immigrant families, the cultural barriers that divide, and the small victories that bring about real change. The book is fiction, but it is based on the real experiences of Thanhha Lai. The personal connection the author feels towards her main character is evident in her poetic storytelling.
Inside Out & Back Again recently won the National Book Award for Young Adult Literature, yet it is marketed to readers 8-12. I think the book spans Middle Grades and Young Adult and is appropriate for for readers young and old.
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