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Inside Out and Back Again

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  44,291 ratings  ·  6,578 reviews
Inside Out and Back Again is a #1 New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award!

Inspired by the author's childhood experience as a refugee—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.
Paperback, 288 pages
Published January 2nd 2013 by HarperCollins (first published February 22nd 2011)
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Popular Answered Questions
Melia Yes, put it is written in a format that is kinda like a poem, but not exactly

And it's really good…more
Yes, put it is written in a format that is kinda like a poem, but not exactly

And it's really good(less)
Suzieq Yes, directed at the family by others in their new neighborhood when they first arrive in Alabama and at the young author at school by the other child…moreYes, directed at the family by others in their new neighborhood when they first arrive in Alabama and at the young author at school by the other children who do not understand . But there is also much kindness shown to the family: most notably the sponsor who helped them get to America and the young girl.s teacher and the neighbor who helps teach her English. (less)

Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.11  · 
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 ·  44,291 ratings  ·  6,578 reviews

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Emily May
Apr 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily May by: Helen Hoang
No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama.

I'd been saving this for when my kids got a little older so we could read it together, but when Helen Hoang mentioned it in the author's note for The Bride Test, I knew I couldn't wait that long. No matter, I'll read it again with them in a few years. It's a beautiful little book.

Inside Out & Back Again is a free verse poem that tells the tale of a Vietnamese family fleeing South Vietnam just before th
Ahmad Sharabiani
Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai
Inside Out & Back Again is a verse novel by Thanhha Lai. The book was awarded the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and one of the two Newbery Honors. The novel was based on her first year in the United States, as a ten-year-old girl who spoke no English in 1975. Inside Out and Back Again is a story about a young girl named Kim Hà and her family being forced to move to the United States because the Vietnam War had reached their home, and i
Apr 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
{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
Jun 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: diverse-reads
“I’m practicing
to be seen.”

This book grabbed my attention with its beautiful cover, and I’m really glad that it did. Inside Out and Back Again tells the tale of Kim Hà and her journey during wartime in Vietnam.

Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward Alabama.

In America, the family has to start anew, where they discover the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of their very o
Kelly (and the Book Boar)
Find all of my reviews at:

For those of you who know me, you might remember last year I discovered my youngest was failing to get his required nightly reading completed by opting to sit on the toilet and stare at the wall for 20 minutes every night rather than ever opening a flippin’ book. That little revelation led to us buddy reading Wonder. Unfortunately the boy child still appears to have been swapped with someone else’s baby and has yet to discover th
Even if rivers run dry and rocks are polished smooth, a silkworm, upon death, still emits silk.
--Nguyễn Du

Our selection for “Alabama” took us first to Vietnam, and my daughters and I were happy to add a little international flavor to our American reading project this year.

This middle grades novel, Inside Out & Back Again, is the semi-autobiographical version of Thanhha Lai's story. . . told from the perspective of a fictional girl, Hà. We come to know Hà and her family, learn of their prosperous
Mar 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 20, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 8th-grade
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
Oct 07, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry-and-prose
I always love a good verse novel, and this book was just that.

A story about immigration and attempts to adapt to a new culture, Inside Out & Back Again was truly beautiful and heartwarming. It touched me emotionally on the struggles Hà had to deal with.
Hà is different from everyone around her. She is a Vietnamese girl among Americans. She is the weird black-haired girl in her school. She is the girl everyone makes fun of. Despite all this, Hà tries to stay strong and continues working and hopin
¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪SomeBunny Reads (Phoenix)•*¨*•♫♪
Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and the new
until it doesn't matter
which is which.

A short book about the experience of a little girl escaping from Saigon to Alabama, facing the hard life of an immigrant: the cultural shock, the homesickness, the rejection from the community. I appreciated it as a document of an experience (the book is based on the author's life), not as much as a novel. I suppose it would be educational for a child, but for an adult it has unfortunately very
Kristy K
Jul 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book has been on my radar (and my shelves) for a while and I’m glad I finally read it. Told in verse from the POV of 10 year old Hà, we get a glimpse into life in Vietnam during the war, the journey of a refugee, and the struggles to adapt and be accepted in a new country. Truly a wonderful, heartfelt (and sometimes heartbreaking) book.
Mar 06, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book #6 for Middle Grade March

Challenge #4 - A book set in another country
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
Book Concierge
Audiobook performed by Doan Ly

Ha is the 10-year-old daughter of a Vietnamese Navy Officer who has gone missing while on a mission. As the Americans pull out of the war and Saigon is about to fall, Ha and her family escape the country via ship. Eventually they gain a sponsor, and the family tries to start over in the USA, a strange land, where the language, food, customs and religion are all different than what they are used to.

This middle-grade novel focusing on the immigrant experience is told
It's a book I didn't know exist until a few days ago, and I'm truly glad it came into my life.

This book deeply touched me because my dad's own family immigrated from Vietnam to France and the Vietnamese culture is one I grew up hearing about but never truly experienced it.

This story follows Hà, her mother and three brothers, through their journey from a Vietnam at war to an American that doesn't necessarily welcome them with opened arms. It's a book about being stripped off your culture, your la
Liz Janet
Oct 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Putting side that I was not the biggest fan of the writing, because I do not think that simply separating sentences with a lot of space is poetry, the story and her experiences made up for it.
“Whoever invented English
should have learned
to spell.”

It is not often that I see a book about immigration to which I can relate. I come from an European background and nationally, I am Caribbean, so I have the whole, not a native English speaker, but still get white privilege thing. This book took me back
Jill Williamson
What a wonderful book! I so appreciated seeing through Há's eyes as she and her family moved from Saigon to Alabama and all that they went through, trying to grieve what was left behind and adapt to what was new. This is a wonderful book to help kids understand what immigration can be like (and to some degree, how it feels to be a new student from a far away place). It did a wonderful job of both educating and building empathy. It would also be a great book to use to study Vietnamese culture. Th ...more
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
10-year old Hà, her older brothers and mother miss their father/husband, a naval officer, who never returned from a mission. Their lives in Saigon are torn asunder when the city is attacked by the North, and they are fortunate to escape via a river route. Landing in a refugee camp, they eventually come to America, where a farmer from Alabama agrees to sponsor them all. Things are difficult for all, but especially Hà, who is placed with younger children despite her aptitude for learning. She beco ...more
I don't recommend listening to this one. The narration is stiff and the Vietnamese words are spoken in italics (see Older's thoughts on italicizing a native language)

I didn't read this one with my eyes because I have an aversion to novels in verse. While they can be more nuanced than the typical novel and though you have to work harder to get to the depths due to a scarcity of words, they seem choppy to me, jarring, and a little flighty. I'm not a fan of poetry, either, so the whole paint a big
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"No one would believe me
but at times/I would choose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama."

This prize winning book is powerful and sad. A young girl named Kim Ha has to leave Vietnam during the war and ends up in the southern State of Alabama.

To begin with, Kim Ha's father has been MIA for 10 years, and after they leave for America they wonder how he can find them if he comes home. So already Kim Ha has sadness in her heart. There is so much more that she has to leave in Vietnam, mainly her p
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."

Lisa (Remarkablylisa)
Perfect for young readers who do not understand racism and what it's like to be an immigrant. This book is also based off of the author's experiences which makes it so much more important to talk about.
Inside Out & Back Again is the debut novel from Thanhha Lai, who incorporates her own childhood memories of fleeing the Vietnam war as a refugee to Alabama in the 1970s. I love middle grades quasi-memoir, especially when I see that it is written in verse, so I pinned this one to the top of my TBR when a student mentioned it to me earlier in 2019. This is the first book I have read while being absolutely positive that I will be teaching sixth grade English (!) for the foreseeable future. Reading ...more
”No one would believe me
but at times
I would chose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama."

Ten-year-old Hà lives in South Vietnam at a time of political turmoil in her country. Her father has been presumed missing in action for many years and her family is living on the brink of poverty in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. When the political unrest becomes too much for them, they flee by boat to America. There Hà, her three brothers and mother must get used to living in this strange land
Zoe's Human
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: lt
No matter how old you are, whether or not you like poetry or not, you should still read this. I'm 45, I'm not into poetry, and I loved this. In spare but elegant verse, the story of one year in the life of a girl is told. A year where Saigon falls and her family becomes refugees fleeing to safety in the United States. A year of coming to terms with a new culture and language. A year of struggle as a forced immigrant. This is amazing both as a piece of literature and as a learning experience.
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
If you love lyrical books you will love this book. I couldn't stop reading it.
Tichana  (The Book Hobbit)
They’re heading to Vūng Táu
he says,
where the rich go
to flee Vietnam
on cruise ships.
I’m glad we’ve become poor
so we can stay.
-Early March

I don't think I have one bad thing to say about this book.
This book gave me life today. I loved everything about it! I think cause it reminded me so much of when I immigrated to Canada after fleeing Iraq. It felt like home.

In this wonderful book we follow the story of Hà. A vietnamese girl in 1975 who is struggling with her family to either stay or leave
Apr 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm sold! If you asked me as early as last week "do you read poetry?" I'd answer with a resounding "no, absolutely not!". Fast forward to today and I would say "is it free verse? Then absolutely yes!". I've never heard of free verse poetry but I like it!

Inside Out & Back Again is a year's journey told through verse of a young immigrant girl fleeing from Saigon. I felt like I got to know her through the sparse and beautiful poetry/verse. This book has been on the NYTimes Bestseller list, a Newbe
Hasna M. 8B
Aug 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This historical fiction was special because the main character, Ha, experiences the same things as the author did when she was 10. It did get a little confusing because not everything that happened was recorded so it looked like she skipped parts. I still loved it!
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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 and then spent the next decade correcting her grammar. Starting her writing life as a 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

Articles featuring this book

Every month is a good month to appreciate poetry, but in April it's an official thing. Founded in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets,...
56 likes · 29 comments
“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…