Lai, Thanhha. (2012). Inside Out & Back Again. New York: Scholastic Inc. ISBN 9780545447850.
Inside Out & Back Again is a novel in verse by Thanhha Lai about ten-year-old Ha and her family as they are forced to leave Saigon and relocate to Alabama because of the Vietnam War. The short free verse poems that make up this book are descriptive, but overall easy to read. Personally, I do not enjoy reading novels in verse and always find my attention drifting while reading them. Inside Out & Back Again is different in that the short individual poems are like diary entries and are concise enough to just feel like a short story written in choppy blocks of text. The titles of each poem help the reader to get a feel for what the entry will be about but does take away from the diary-type layout. However, the overall journal-like feel of the book is furthered by the inclusion of a date and often time of day at the end of each entry.
This book is divided into three parts, in Saigon, life at sea, and adjusting to American life in Alabama. It is an inspirational story about adjustments, family, culture, and sacrifices. Although this story takes places in a tumultuous time in history, the story isn’t political or judgmental but instead is full of wisdom and life lessons that can be universal despite the story’s setting. Since this book is in free verse, there is no consistent rhythm or sound to it but the descriptive language found in it paints a beautiful, hopeful, and inspiring image for the reader. The reader can often imagine what it would be like for them to leave their home, their culture, and their language and start over in a brand new place. Ha often talks about her struggles with learning English, and even says she would rather deal with the war time struggles in Saigon than be in Alabama. The reader will at times feel sympathy for Ha and her family but feel hopeful and optimistic for them later. Overall, this is a memorable story that presents young people with an emotional and moving opportunity to learn about another culture without being too educational, preachy, or sentimental.
Several other book trailers can be found on YouTube.