Verse novels can sometimes be difficult for me to get my head around. Poetry as a form seems so much more subjective toAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
Verse novels can sometimes be difficult for me to get my head around. Poetry as a form seems so much more subjective to me than prose, so I tend to find myself struggling to parse and analyze what I see in front of me. The truth is, if I find myself spending time analyzing the form of the novel, it's already lost me. I should be able to drift off into the story, reading as easily as I would any other book. Thankfully, this is exactly what happened while I was reading Inside Out and Back Again, the new novel from Thanhha Lai.
Largely autobiographical, Inside Out and Back Again tells a year in the life of ten-year-old Kim Hà, as she moves with her family from her home in Vietnam when Saigon falls to Alabama, and the basement of her American sponsor. She moves from a life that, though troubled by war, is familiar and full of the things she loves, like her beloved Papaya tree, to a life of alienation and uncertainty. The novel is divided into four parts, labeled "Saigon", "At Sea", "Alabama" and "From Now On" and each entry is dated, though some have only approximate times, and some are even labeled "Every day".
I was drawn into Hà’s world very easily and was able to sympathize with her status as the youngest and only girl. Lai uses language beautifully to describe Hà’s confusion, determination and longing for a missing father she does not even remember. What is most enjoyable about this book, as I said before, was how easily it reads, smoothly and with nary a hiccup on the horizon. Lai hasn't taken too difficult things, a verse novel and an historical fiction novel, and blended them together beautifully, in a book that is both memorable and meaningful.
A note on the cover: While the art gives away nothing of time or place, I find the colors and the movement simply beautiful. It's probably my favorite cover of the year so far. ...more
Verse novels are tricky things. When done correctly, they invoke powerful emotions and rich settings. When done incorrecAs posted on Outside of a Dog:
Verse novels are tricky things. When done correctly, they invoke powerful emotions and rich settings. When done incorrectly, they play fast and loose with emotions and risk coming off as blather. I never really know what prompts a writer to choose verse for their storytelling mode. Does it come to them in poetry, or is it a conscious decision of form? I wondered such wonderings when I picked up Caroline Starr Rose’s May B. But nary a few pages in, and questions were gone from my head. I was absorbed.
May Betterly won’t go. At least, that’s what she thinks to herself. Her mother and father have decided to send her away to let her work for another homesteader and his new wife. And May won’t go. Won’t leave her family, her brother, her school. But will and won’ts don’t mean very much, when you’re a girl living on the prairie, and your family needs the money. So away May goes, to live with the Oblingers until Christmas. But one day Mrs. Oblinger leaves her husband, and Mr. Oblinger runs after her, and neither returns, leaving May alone in a soddy in the middle of the prairie, with no help, and no way home. And thus begins May’s tale of survival into a harsh winter, and her struggle with demons inside and out, hunger and wolves at the door.
The book that I was most reminded of while reading May B. was Karen Hesse’s Newbery medal winning Out of the Dust. There must be something about the sparseness of the historical Midwest landscape that encourages the free verse poetry. And May is just as compelling a character and a voice as Out of the Dust’s Billie Jo, which is a good thing, because we spend the majority of the work with May and May alone. Everything rests on the authenticity of her voice, and thankfully Ms. Rose has confidence in May’s voice, in spades. “I whistle,/I spit,/think up as many unladylike things as I can,/and do them./Out in the open./For the whole empty world to see.” I was with May every painful, hard-earned step of the way. Verse novels either get me, or they don’t, and May B. got me right from the start. 2012 is starting out as a very fine year indeed. ...more
What gleeful crumminess! Fantastic poems matched with equally fantastic art from Matthew Cordell. I think the 'Jack and the Beanstalk' inspired poem iWhat gleeful crumminess! Fantastic poems matched with equally fantastic art from Matthew Cordell. I think the 'Jack and the Beanstalk' inspired poem is my favorite of the bunch. ...more