Inside Out & Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Published by Harper Collins, 2011
272 pages (hardcover)
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.
For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.
This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next. (from barnesandnoble.com)
I have read, studied, and taught about the Vietnam Conflict. I love movies set during this time (ones that take place in America… no blood and fighting for me!) and often make my son listen to 60s/70s protest songs. But Inside Out & Back Again is a whole other perspective that most Americans don’t know about. While writing and talking about how Americans were affected by the war, I think we all forget how much the people of Vietnam went through and lost.
Based on her own journey from Vietnam to America, Lai uses verse to tell the story of escape from war to prejudice in America. HÀ’s journey is inspiring, but also bittersweet because her life isn’t a fairytale and things aren’t perfect in the end.
While the book is a fairly quick read, it is deserving of the National Book Award and all if its positive reviews.