Barb Middleton's Reviews > Inside Out & Back Again

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
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Feb 13, 12

bookshelves: novel-in-verse, realistic
Read in December, 2011

Ha has fled Vietnam and is in America with her mom and three brothers. English words have a ”Sssssssssss” sound that reminds her of snakes: MiSSS WasSShington, MiSSS SScott, hogwaSSSh. Some students make friends with her like Pem (Pam) and SSsi-Ti-Van (Steven) while others bully her by teasing her when she speaks; calling her pancake face, and pulling the hair on her arms. Ha is 10 and was born in Vietnam during the war. Her father disappeared on a mission for the Navy when she was one. When the family has a chance to escape to America, they end up in Alabama where Ha has to learn to adjust to Western culture.

Ha is a feisty, likeable character. She changes throughout the story going from a smart girl in Vietnam to a girl who struggles to communicate with others because she doesn’t know the English language. She hates going from being smart to stupid. It makes her furious and she screams in frustration and lashes out at those around her. She’s also picked on by other kids. She thinks about how she picked on a girl in class in Vietnam and how she is now being picked on in America. She wonders if she is being punished for her meanness in Vietnam. I like how Part I shows Saigon and Ha’s life in Vietnam. It sets up the traditions she has grown up with as a young girl that contrasts with Part II when she lives in Alabama and has to adjust to a new culture.This immigrant story has more of a contemporary feel because it is set in the 1970′s. The verse novel works well capturing the essence of the story that isn’t preachy or overly sentimental.

The family dynamics change throughout the story as well. In Vietnam, Ha is annoyed with her older brothers and doesn’t always like how they get the attention. For instance, one of the boys must touch the floor first for the New Year (Tet) to bring the family good luck. Ha doesn’t like it that male feet bring luck and she gets up before anyone else so her feet touch the floor first. On the journey to Alabama, the relationships between Ha and her brothers change. First, she comforts her brother Khoi and helps him deal with the death of a baby chick that has derailed him in a way that suggests he is struggling with leaving his country. Next, she takes self-defense lessons (along with other kids in the neighborhood) from her brother Vu who is obsessed with actor, Bruce Lee. Quang, her older brother, comes to her aid when the class bully threatens her. In America, the family bonds as they deal with an oftentimes hostile environment.
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