Sometimes life gets turned Inside Out and Back Again

November 30, 2011 at 1:30 pm Leave a comment

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, New York; 2011.

Ten year old Ha has lost her father.  He is missing in action.  With his disappearance, and the imminent fall of Saigon, Ha’s mother has packed up the family to flee the Vietnam War.  Their destination is Alabama.  How will this ten year old girl adapt to the American South?

Thanhha Lai’s stark yet brilliant novel in prose is perhaps the most beautifully written book I’ve read in a long time.  The precise choice of words sometimes strike like pin-pricks to the heart of immigration, bullying, fitting in, and family.  I actually read the book twice, once to learn Ha’s story, then again to be swallowed by the poetry.  Just when I felt too overwhelmed by Ha’s plight, I found myself laughing at some absurdly typical kid event, like learning and using new vocabulary or trying new food.  I see why this was chosen the winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

That being said, I do not think children will read the book.  Often the books we adults find enchanting and beautiful are boring and inaccessible to the intended audience.  With pushing, like as a school assignment or book challenge, it will be read and probably enjoyed.  But not without pushing and prodding.  Because it is so beautifully written and because it offers a lesson in diversity and acceptance, I hope it is pushed and pushed hard.  Teachers may want to share it as a classroom read aloud.  Librarians should use it in displays about immigration, ethnicity, and even bullying.


Entry filed under: Starred Review Book (Horn Book, Booklist. School Library Journal, Kirkus or PW).

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