Thursday, July 14, 2011

Review of Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Lai, Thanhha.  Inside Out and Back Again.  HarperCollins, 2011.

I knew I'd be stuck in a waiting room while a relative had minor outpatient surgery, and I was almost done with The King Of Attolia - so I grabbed Inside Out and Back Again before I left the house.  "Look, I'm all covered!" I said. "Plenty to read!"

"Ya know," my relative said.  "That's a really quick read."  And sure enough, when I riffled the pages - white space!  Lots of white space!  The dang thing is written in spare free verse.  Argh!

Luckily, the surgery went quickly, and I managed to eke out the pages to last almost the whole time.  Phew...

10-year-old Hà lives in Vietnam in 1975.  As the south falls to the communists, her mother manages to get her and her three older brothers out of the country, first to a refugee camp in Thailand and then to Alabama, where they are sponsored by a man Hà thinks of as "the cowboy," though he doesn't ride a horse (to her unending disappointment).  Though Ha's father disappeared in 1966, they still hope to be reunited with him one day.

Like many emigrant kids, Hà must deal with learning English (with its idiotic exceptions to its weird rules), coping with culture shock, and suffering the slings and arrows of outrageously annoying classmates.  There is plenty of unfriendliness in Hà's new town, but there are good people as well, and Hà and her brothers do start to adjust and even to thrive, even as they finally learn to say goodbye to their father.

Hà is a terrific Every Kid - she's stubborn, observant, sulky, willful, curious, and brave when she has to be.  Readers will stick with her every step of her journey, and will understand how it feels to be a stranger in a strange land.  And kids who have been emigrants themselves will feel this story in their bones.

I hardly noticed this is written in free verse, so effortlessly did I glide through the story.  Ordinarily I tend to avoid novels written in this form - they just don't seem meaty enough - but this is one of those occasions when I'm so glad I was stuck in a waiting room with only one book.  Lightly lyrical, natural and often funny, Lai's writing is a pleasure to read.

This story of a year in a girl's life will give readers some knowledge of the effects of the aftermath of the Vietnam war on one family - but more importantly, reflects the reality of refugee kids all over the world.  Recommended for ages 9 to 12.

No comments:

Post a Comment