Monday, November 12, 2012

Inside Out and Back Again

Thanna Lai's Inside Out and Back Again is the National Book Award winning autobiographical story of a family fleeing their soon- to-be occupied homeland of South Vietnam for the strange clay soil and deep south traditions of Alabama. The story is told by Ha, a ten year old girl with a  father who is missing in action, a caring but sad mother desparately hoping for his unlikely return, and three older brothers.
The story begins on Tet, 1975, the first day of the lunar calendar and ends on the same day one year later. It is told in short, almost-poems, a mixture between a stream of consciousness narration and a diary. It is the voice of a confused, angry, witty girl trying to make sense of the new world she has landed in. She struggles to learn English,
"Sometimes
the spelling changes when adding an s.

Knife becomes knives.                                                                                 

...Sometimes
 a c is used
instead of a k...

Whoever invented English
should have learned
to spell."

and to make the people of Alabama understand her homeland,
"MiSSS SScott
shows the class
photograhps

of a burned, naked girl
running, crying

...of people climbing, screaming,
desparate to get on
the last helicopter
out of Saigon

...She's telling the class where I'm from.

She should've shown
something about
papayas and Tet.

...at times I would choose
wartime in Saigon
over
peacetime in Alabama."

The way the book is written makes it a quick and easy read, perfect for children grades 5-8. The poignant beauty of the language and Lai's careful handling of her subject make it perfect for grades 5-forever. Inside Out and Back Again will break your heart, rearrange the pieces, and put it back in place. It will also make you laugh out loud. Really.

Interested in reading more about the refugee experience? Read Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey by G.B. Tran. For a different point of view, check out Tim O'Brien's YA classic The Things They Carried. These titles are all available in the VBPL catalog.

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