Book Review || Inside Out & Back Again

Author: Thanhha Lai

Hà lives in Saigon— a city of celebrations, papayas, open-air markets full of exotic food, magic crepes filled with shrimp and bean sprouts and cucumbers, quiet prayers with burning jasmine incense and clear bell rings from a brass gong, sadness and joy. That is all she has known her entire life, along with her brothers, Quang, Vû, and Khôi. But the Vietnam War is slowly approaching, and the ever-present roars of bombs in the distance grows louder every day. People are fleeing, including Hà and her family. They secretly depart by ship, crammed to the brim with other refugees, living off ration rice and water and trying to make the best of their small, unsanitary quarters. For what seems an eternity, they stay on the water, and finally— as though it is a miracle— they are rescued. They stay on Guam for a little bit, and then are transferred to the United States. A sponsor from Alabama (who Hà believes is a cowboy) offers to take the family in. Hà must adjust— going to school, dealing with her mean classmates, learning English from a friendly neighbour, and, eventually making friends and learning to stand up for her family, her culture, and herself. She and her family must also say a symbolic goodbye to Ha’s father, who was missing in action for 10 years, and slowly accept their new life— blending old and new traditions together.

Inside Out & Back Again is a gorgeous and very memorable story written in free verse poetry. It has a very authentic voice to it— probably because much of what happened to Hà happened to the author, Thanhha Lai, including being forced to flee to Alabama, a strange state in a strange land with a strange language to learn. Hà’s narration is clear, describing emotions in a childlike (not childish) yet sincere way. This book perfectly illustrates many of the struggles immigrants face in a new country. And not only is it about adjusting and accepting, but also family and love. A book full of pain, but so much more hope. ❤


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