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Inside Out & Back Again

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  14,601 ratings  ·  2,430 reviews
Inside Out and Back Again is a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award! Inspired by the author's childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration.

For all the...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 22nd 2011 by HarperCollins
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Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtA Monster Calls by Patrick NessWonderstruck by Brian SelznickDivergent by Veronica RothInside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Newbery 2012
5th out of 167 books — 674 voters
Okay for Now by Gary D. SchmidtInside Out & Back Again by Thanhha LaiA Monster Calls by Patrick NessWords in the Dust by Trent ReedyWith a Name like Love by Tess Hilmo
2012 Mock Newbery
2nd out of 23 books — 45 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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{This review originally appeared on Clear Eyes, Full Shelves.}
I now understand
when they make fun of my name,
yelling ha-ha-ha down the hall
when they ask if I eat dog meat,
barking and chewing and falling down laughing
when they wonder if I lived in the jungle with tigers,
growling and stalking on all fours.

I understand
because Brother Khoi
nodded into my head
on the bike ride home
when I asked if kids
said the same things
at his school.

Thanhha Lai writes her verses in her award winning middle grade novel...more
Jun 21, 2011 babyhippoface rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all teachers
Read this straight through in one evening. It repeatedly put me in mind of an outstanding teacher at my school, whose family immigrated to the United States when she was about Ha's age. When we had a "Guess That Baby Picture" contest at school, she brought a school photo of herself around the age of 8, because that was all she had. There were no baby photos of her, no visual memories of her early years; they were too poor for photographs. All through this book I kept thinking, "I wonder if this...more
Thinking about the most memorable of children's novels, one trait in all of them has to ring true in order for them to click with their readers. The books must contain some kind of "meaning". Even the frothiest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-type offering isn't going to remain long in the public's brain if there isn't at least a little "meaning" slipped in there. Now when I use the term "meaning" I'm being purposefully vague because it's not the kind of thing you can easily define. What is me...more
Hey, reviewers? A lot of you are using the word "prose" where you mean "poetry", and I can't take it.

Also, there are actually lots and lots of kids' and YA books written in verse. Thanks.

Anyway, actual review: I find it difficult to review this, just like I found it difficult to review the last novel-in-verse about a Vietnamese refugee in the 1970s that I read, All the Broken Pieces. Like anything negative I might say is me judging the immigrant experience itself.

At first I didn't like this that...more
This moving novel in verse chronicles a year in the life of a young girl who must leave behind all that is familiar for a world where everything is strange and new. It is 1975, and as the war draws closer to her Saigon, Vietnam home, Ha reflects on the whereabouts of her missing father and the family's difficult straits. When they have the chance to flee, the family boards a boat, eventually ending up in Alabama. The book illustrates perfectly many of the struggles immigrants face as they deal w...more
A short, but significant, story. This book is one of the reasons reading is so important. How else would we understand what it feels like to be a refugee? I firmly believe if more people read this or similar books, there would be fewer acts of xenophobia. I've never read a book written in free verse, but I absolutely loved it. I thought the fact that the author could get you to feel so much for the characters with so few words was amazing. Highly recommended.

"Her brows twist
so much
we hush."

Let me tell you something. If I wasn't forced to write so many essay's about this stupid book, then I might have enjoyed it more. Maybe if we didn't have to analyze every sentence discussing every little detail until I accidentally tear one of the papers out because we had to flip back so many times, I probably might have enjoyed it more. This could have been a great book, and it's a shame that the new common core thinks we are "Learning" from writing useless paragraphs on how Ha's experience re...more
This was lovely. The free verse this was written in gave the writing a very pert and matter-of-fact feel. There're literally too many things to quote from this. Excellent female role-models ☑ beautiful writing ☑ exposé of racism ☑ strong focus on immigration and cultural dichotomies ☑ all-round excellence ☑.

"No-one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama."

I know that was quoted on the sleeve and how ~unoriginal~ of me to not find a quote of my own...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
It’s the end of the long Vietnam War and Ha and her family live in Vietnam. It’s a beautiful place, despite the war going on all around them, with delicious food and lush gardens. Ha does brilliant work in school and she has a wonderful, close-knit family. It’s a small Eden in the midst of the terrible war.

Then the family cannot put things off any longer; the country they love is collapsing and they must leave Vietnam. The family escapes on a packed boat and is taken in by a cowboy in the Americ...more
It always used to bug me as a kid when I would read an award-winning children's book and then realize that it was award-winning because adults thought children SHOULD read it, and not because kids actually WANTED to. 'Inside Out & Back Again' is a classic example, in that it's about a young girl fleeing the Vietnam War with her family and ending up in Alabama. Also, it's written in verse, which I actually ended up liking. Here is an excerpt, about starting school in America:

"Misss SScott
Hayden Casey
Inside Out & Back Again is a wonderful story that you don't realize you're in love with until you finish it. When I turned the last page, I was grief-stricken, not because of the book, but because of the mere absence of pages left. I really felt for the characters, especially Ha. I loved reading about her experiences with leaving the land she loved and moving to an unknown place, because it's believable. Setting the book during the Vietnam War gave me a little bit of background as to how the...more
So in the further adventures of Monica Reads Books About The Immigrant Experience For Her Library’s Upcoming Project On The Topic, we have Inside Out And Back Again, which I was really excited to read both because I feel sort of like everyone but me has read it already, and also because I read a ridiculously adorable interview with Thanhha Lai that made me wish we were friends.

But… eh?

Inside Out And Back Again has won a shit-ton of major literary awards, so the fact that I wasn’t 100% blown awa...more
Krista the Krazy Kataloguer
This book, based on the author's own experiences, is a 2012 Newbery Honor Book as well as the 2011 National Book Award winner for YA fiction, and it certainly deserves both. The story, told in verse, begins in Vietnam during the war, just as Saigon is about to fall to the Communists. Ten-year-old Ha, her mother, and three brothers flee Vietnam in a crowded boat and make it to America, where they try to start a new life. The story describes their first year in Alabama, and particularly Ha's probl...more
I think the writing is really cool, it is like a poem. I don't know what the family is doing. Why didn't they stay!!
They look like they are in a safe place now.She looks like she is going through a ruff time like I once did. It looks like those bullies are not gona pick on her again
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

I was in the US Navy in 1975, headed toward the Philippines when our squadron personnel were off-loaded in Hawaii so that our carrier could rush to the coast of Vietnam to pick up refugees fleeing South Vietnam before it fell to Communist forces. So this story has particular personal meaning.

Like most Americans, I owe the life I live to the courage and hope of immigrant ancestors. The powerfulness of this story rings true. The US is a nation of immigrants...more
Francesca Forrest
I've been meaning to write a review of this for ages. This was an excellent, excellent book--the personalities of Ha (the protagonist) and her three older brothers and mother come through so clearly, and the drama of their flight from Vietnam and settling in Alabama is told with such understated poignance--the hardships are clear but not wallowed in. There's nastiness and racism, but also friendship and understanding.

The novel is told in a series of free-verse poems. I expected this to hamper th...more
Inside Out and Back Again is a poetic story about a young girl's transition from war-torn Vietnam to Alabama. A note from the author explains that this book is semi-autobiographical, as she herself also fled Vietnam at the end of the war at the tender age of 10, had to learn English, had to deal with taunts and bullies as she built a new life for herself with her family in Alabama.

The poetic style emphasizes words in a beautiful way, bringing out the feelings of the work in a way that prose coul...more
Kim Purcell
I saw Thanhha Lai read from her book at the National Book Awards Finalists Reading. Before she read, she said that she wrote it in a poetry format because she wanted to mirror the way that people think in Vietnamese. That was fascinating to me because I've worked with many people from different countries and I've found that the way we think is not only determined by our culture, but also by our language. Thought is composed of images and words, so it makes sense.

This insight would have been val...more
Readable in about an hour, this book of simple, straightforward poetry does an excellent job of painting a picture of the complicated process of immigrating to a new country. You can tell that this is a very personal story for Thanhha Lai, and I really loved that she spent time depicting Ha's life in Vietnam before she moves to America, so the juxtaposition of her two lives are very very clear.

I can't even imagine being smart and pretty and popular and happy and relaxed and at ease, and then ha...more
Cheryl in CC NV
Maybe after discussion in the Children's Books group I'll reflect on this with more enjoyment. For now all I can say is that I do appreciate it, very much. Excellent & accessible historical fiction about a time of history about which I know very little. Surprisingly easy to read, as the depressing bits weren't overwhelming.

I liked the bit when they were packing minimally, knowing that they were to be refugees, and allowed one small 'choice' item. Ha chose a doll that had been bitten by a nei...more
I will be teaching this book this year. I read it in about two hours so I'm unsure as to how it's going to stretch over the course of an eight week module unit. I was interested in the story and I liked Ha the character telling the story but I felt a little disconnected from what was happening. I almost think I would have liked it better if it wasn't told As a free verse poem so that I could have gotten to know the characters better. It is still a good read.... But much like my own English teach...more
Linda Lipko
One of only two Newbery honor books for 2012, this incredible tale is based on real life experience of the author. Told from the perspective of ten year old Ha, this is a series of beautifully written, insightful poems, about a Vietnamese family who fled their country in 1975.

This is moving, poignant and compelling. Arriving in America after a long boat journey, the family is sponsored and sent to Alabama. As young Ha notes, at times life in war-torn Viet Nam was emotionally safer than southern...more
Linda Lipko
One of only two Newbery honor books for 2012, this incredible tale is based on real life experience of the author. Told from the perspective of ten year old Ha, this is a series of beautifully written, insightful poems, about a Vietnamese family who fled their country in 1975.

This is moving, poignant and compelling. Arriving in America after a long boat journey, the family is sponsored and sent to Alabama. As young Ha notes, at times life in war-torn Viet Nam was emotionally safer than southern...more
Abby Johnson
Um... Why did I wait so long to pick up this book? Thanhha Lai puts readers right into the story with her vivid prose poems about wartime Vietnam and one family's flight and struggle to acclimate as American immigrants. The audiobook is nicely done, with narrator Doan Ly treasuring each carefully chosen word. Vietnamese pronunciations are said precisely and with emphasis to set them apart from the English text (as if they're italicized, which they probably are in the print book).

This was a list...more
My review on my book blog, Hanging by a Book:

But it takes time to
match every noun and verb,
sort all the tenses,
remember all the articles,
set the tone for every s.

MiSSisss WaSShington says
if every learner waits
to speak perfectly,
no one would learn
a new language.

Reading Thanha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again (2011 Scholastic), an eloquent novel in verse, one readily understands the accolades and awards (Newberry Honor and National Book Award) bestowed on Ha's story o...more
Rachel Terry
Life as a Vietnamese refugee may seem like a difficult topic for a children's book, but like Lois Lowry's child-portioned view of the Holocaust in Number the Stars, Inside Out & Back Again delivers just enough of a taste of that tragedy to teach compassion and understanding without overwhelming anyone. Better than that, though, this novel-in-verse helps readers to feel more grateful and sensitive.

Ha is a ten-year-old girl, the youngest child and only daughter of a mother struggling to keep h...more
Apr 25, 2014 Sarahi added it
Shelves: multicultural
Intermediate book- Inside Out & Back Again

1. This story is about a ten year old girl named Ha, who lives in Vietnam with her three brothers and mother. Eventually they have to leave Vietnam because of all the fighting occurring there and they move to Alabama. The book is written in poetry form and divided into four sections where she is in Vietnam, traveling at sea, in Alabama, and finally looking towards the future. Throughout the whole story Ha mentions how hard it is to move to a new coun...more
People have to make tough decisions, and thats how it is for 10-year old Hà. This book takes place in Saigon, Vietnam, until the Vietnam War strikes their home town and Hà and her mother have no choice but to move to Alabama. Hà, the pratagonist, goes through a dangerous journey to get America. Everythhing is different when she gets there. New people, new food, and new cities. Read more about Hà´s incredible jouney through her new life in Inside Out and Back Again.
This book brought tears to my...more
Wow! This was an amazing book. At first glace at this book,I thoughtit waswas going to be ageneral poetrybook however, it turned out to be a novel written in free-verse poetry. It told the story of Ha. An 10-year-old Vintages girl. It gives an insight of her life throughout a year. It deals with Ha and her family experience to travel to the US after the fall of Saigon. This bookalso deals with the migration experience and adapting to a new way of living and the lost of her father.

I would recomm...more
Colby Sharp
This book blew me away. It felt so real. Great book for all teachers and students to read. Really helps us to begin to understand the challenges our ESL students face when they come into our classrooms.
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Thanhha Lai was born in Vietnam. At the end of the war, she fled with her family to Alabama. There, she learned English from fourth graders. She then spent the next decade correcting her grammar. Starting her writing life as journalist, she worked at The Orange County Register. She switched to fiction, leading to an MFA from New York University and short story publications in various journals and...more
More about Thanhha Lai...
Listen, Slowly Guys Read: True Stories

Share This Book

“Oh, my daughter,
at times you have to fight,
but preferably
not with your fists.”
“Mother says,
People share
when they know they have escaped hunger.

Shouldn't people share
because there is hunger?”
More quotes…