I thought that Inside Out & Back Again was a book I'd never heard of when I plucked it off the shelf at my library. I was browsing the shelves and lured by something about the green spine and the font. I picked it up, noticed the Newbery Honor Book sticker, and wondered that I hadn't heard of it. I flipped through and realised that it was a verse novel. An then faint bells started ringing, and I thought of a different cover.
And I knew that I had heard of it, a bit, but a while ago- it was a Newbery Honour Book back in 2012. Before this year the verse novel form would have put me off, but now that Steven Herrick is teaching me to read and enjoy verse novels I was less put off, and was even intrigued enough to bring it home and read it.
Inside Out & Back Again is a rather autobiographical novel about a young girls journey from Saigon to Alabama after the fall of Saigon in 1975. It tells the story of ten year old Hà, who has grown up in Saigon with her family- her mother and three brothers living a simple life. Hà's mother works two jobs to support the family since her husband disappeared nearly a decade earlier.
Father left home
on a navy mission
on this day
nine years ago
when I was almost one.
He was captured
on Route 1
an hours south of the city
They live a simple, traditional life in Saigon, until they are forced to flee Vietnam by political circumstance. The family then spend a harrowing three weeks at sea before arriving at Guam, and transferred to America. There are interesting perspectives on migrant experience- learning a new language, fitting in, the shock of a new culture.
Thanhha Lai dedicates her book
To the millions of refugees in the world, may you each find a home.
She writes an interesting Author Note at the end of the book.
Aside from remembering facts, I worked hard to capture Hà's emotional life. What was it like to live where bombs exploded every night yet where sweet snacks popped up at every corner? What was it like to sit on a ship heading toward hope? What was it like to go from knowing you're smart to feeling dumb all the time?
Thanhha Lai achieves this emotional perspective quite well. I was moved, both saddened, and made to smile by her story. I'm not sure why this book needed a verse novel perspective, but then I am only a novice for this story form.