Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Hà has only known Saigon.  The sights and smells of the markets, her own papaya tree.  This is her home but the Vietnam War is encroaching upon her life quickly.  It’s already taken her father away to fight and it has come for her home.  Despite reservations of leaving, not knowing how their father will find them, Hà’s family is forced to escape the North Vietnamese army.  They board a ship, not knowing where their future lies.  Cramped on a stalled ship after several days at sea they are rescued and the refugees are taken to the US.  Hà’s family is sent to live in Alabama a strange world with no papaya tree   can call her own.  Together, Hà’s family become accustomed to their new life, learning the language, the customs, religion, all while enduring the teasing and distrust from their new neighbors, but never forgetting who they are or where they came from.

The cover alone is enough to make someone stop and pick this book up.  Add a well written verse, that is beautiful, at times heartbreaking, and you almost have a perfect book that you will never forget.  With just a few carefully selected words, Thanhha Lai makes you feel what Hà feels, which means keep the tissues close.  But she will also make you smile.

I can’t imagine what it was really like evacuating Saigon during that time.  I’ve only known moving across the country but to a new state with a shared language and coworkers who I had previously met.  To leave in a rush of panic and confusion with no idea what will become of you; it takes a brave person to experience all that and all throughout this book I kept wondering if I could be as brave and resourceful as Hà and her family.  I really hope so if such a situation ever arises and I admire anyone who has had to bravely leave their home not knowing what the future will be.

Hà is wonderful.  She’s a very real little girl with hopes and dreams.  You feel her frustration as she attends school in the United States, as well as her triumph when she outwits a bully.  She’s defiant and refuses to let the fact she’s the youngest or a girl let anything stop her.  She is also very brave.  With very little complaint she endured the hardships her family faced when they evacuated Saigon and then suffered the cramped living spaces of the ship they escaped on with little food, space or privacy.  She is someone to be admired and I think all little girls should read her story.


  1. The cover would certainly make me stop and pick it up. It is practically glowing. Beautiful work by the artist/design team. This one sounds very, very good.

    1. I am very sad because the copy I read was from the library and I hated having to give it back. But this will make it onto my shelf soon because my daughter wants to read it and that cover is so wonderful.

      Yes, it's very good. It's a National Book Award winner so I'm hoping it makes it's way into classrooms soon.

  2. This book blew my mind, and I cried like a baby more than once.