Monday, July 25, 2011

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Harper Collins Children

Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama.


  1. This book impressed me. Ha escapes from war-torn Vietnam with her mother and older brothers and has to resettle in Alabama. The tale, based on the author's experience, was told in poetic form, which worked really well here (despite my original skepticism). The writing was simple and concise, yet elegant and beautiful. The characters behave realistically.

  2. This was a touching account of a girl's cultural transition to the US, and I appreciate the personal nature of the story. The only thing I would criticize is that it was told in a poetic format when most of it was narrative. I think I would have liked it more if it represented real diary entries rather than free form poetry, as I thought it too often lacked a lot of devices one would typically find in poetry. Despite that, I think it's a strong contender.

  3. Strengths are the characterization of the protagonist--her brothers were not as strongly delineated but still well done (can't complain). Strong story & definitely written for children, and the narrator (our protagonist) speaks from a child's pov. Good choice of detail and impressions. Very believable. Strong story about the immigrant/refugee experience.

  4. I loved this book. The precise choice of words, anecdotes and emotions, conveyed in the spare style of free verse, combines to provide a moving depiction of the immigrant experience from a child's viewpoint. Powerful characters and strong sense of setting both in Vietnam and Alabama. This will definitely be on my short list!

  5. Mine too! The more I think about this book and the clarity of language and the voice of the narrator, I think it gets stronger in my mind in comparison to some of the other books I've read.

  6. This won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature! Does a book ever win both that and the Newbery?

  7. That's a really great question Anne! Not usually, but

  8. I'm going to do some detective work on the past few years & see if we've ever had both.

    Here's the list of National Book Awards:
    Young People’s Literature
    1996: Parrott In the Oven: Mi Vida by Victor Martinez
    1997: Dancing on the Edge by Han Nolan
    1998: Holes by Louis Sachar
    1999: When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt
    2000: Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
    2001: True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff
    2002: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
    2003: The Canning Season by Polly Horvath
    2004: Godless by Pete Hautman
    2005: The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
    2006: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1:
    The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson
    2007: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
    2008: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell
    2009: Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose
    2010: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

    Holes by Sachar is the only one to win both; there are some Newbery Honor titles in the mix--Claudette Colvin and the House of the Scorpion.

  9. This is a beautiful book. Really rings true. The characters have very legitimate voices. A quick read, but lots of substance.

  10. I'm not a fan of novels in poetry, but I thought this book was okay. Ha's voice is realistic and she did write about the snippets of her life from refugee to Alabama which are so important to children. It is a very moving story. Still, because it's poetry, it didn't provide enough information to fill out the whole story. I, too, would have been happier if this was written as diary entries.