Are you loving this spring weather?! We are spending tons of time outside and loving it. It has been fantastic!
Today I am here with a review of a book I am really excited to share more about: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. This book won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and was a Newbery Honor book that same year. Interesting to note, I didn’t enjoy the Newbery Winner for that year (Dead End in Norvelt) very much. I would have given this one the medal!
I first saw this book on a display at Barnes & Noble in March. I was intrigued but decided to place a hold at my library before buying. However, I ended up buying it on Amazon because I couldn’t wait until my library reopened to read it! So glad to own it!
- This book fits perfectly into my middle grade immigration story kick that I’ve been on for a while now. I started with Front Desk recommended by a good friend, then read this one and just started the Newbery Medal winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears. It’s been fun to read books with characters with such unique backgrounds to my own (and with ties to a range of countries) but who share strength and determination to help their families.
- I love that this is a novel in verse!! I love novels written in verse. I wish there were more! Any recommendations?
According to Goodreads, “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.”
The free verse poetry form is fantastic and unique. I remember loving The Crossover that also won the Newbery and is also written in verse. This is a different form but such a neat way to tell a story–especially from a child’s perspective. I love how quick it is to read but also how vivid and emotional the storytelling is in this form. The details are incredible! The words themselves become part of the story and how they are laid out on the page becomes important. I found it fascinating and clever that Hà thinks in Vietnamese and yet the book is in English. It’s very clever how it’s laid out and how the pronunciation is used in the poetry.
Hà is a fantastic protagonist. I love her perspective on her home in Vietnam, on the war, on the boat ride to freedom, and her new experiences in America. Innocent yet mature. Difficult but hopeful. Sad and full of love. Her relationships with her family are quite lovely as well. My favorite is her relationship with her mother–how she adores and needs her mother and can also help her. Her big brothers are all different yet all similar in how they stick up for her and keep her strong. It is very powerful and emotional the way they talk about their father as well. He is central to their family even as he is clouded in mystery. Perhaps what I enjoyed most about Hà is her imperfections. She gets angry. She lets the bullies get to her sometimes. She wants her old life back. She is just such a raw, real character. And I was cheering for her from the first moment she described her papaya tree.
My favorite elements in this story were the beautiful details. The imagery is so powerful! I can almost taste the sweet fruit of the papaya tree, the fried dough in the market, or “the cookies with drops of chocolate”. I can smell the lavender scented incense. I can almost feel the feathers of the baby chick or the wind sitting on her brother’s bicycle. I can even see every redness on the the bully’s face. The perfect word to describe these details is vivid. And I am all the more impressed because it is written in a less common form with fewer words than traditional novels. In the free verse, the focus is on images and moments which make this story come to life.
This is an valuable story about refugee life. Again, I’ve read several novels about immigrants lately and it’s been so interesting to learn about their lives in America. They expect different things. They miss certain things. I love learning about the Vietnamese culture in this book from the food, the festivals, the celebrations, the chanting and the way they view God and war. It was a beautiful tribute to a time in history that I know little about. My knowledge of the Vietnam war is very limited, so I appreciated a first hand account of how hard it was for the people who fled that war torn country. And I love that our author bases her writing off her own experiences. That makes it all more authentic and fascinating for me.
A great read and one I recommend for all, especially middle grade readers! This book can spark great discussions about refugees, war, kindness, understanding other cultures, and the importance of friendship, family, and belonging.
What are some of your favorite novels written in verse?
Which novels about refugees’ stories would you recommend?