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Middle Grade, Historical, 272 pages, Harper
- Series: stand-alone
- Pub date: February 22nd 2011
- Disclosure: Received as a gift from Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of Gringolandia. Thanks!
Absolutely perfect in every way. The illustration is gorgeous, and the mood perfectly conveys the tone of the story: bittersweet, sad, but ultimately hopeful.
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.The Long...
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.
The Vietnam War is a recent fascination for me. The experiences of veterans have become so ingrained in the American psyche that it's hard to remember that we were far, far, far from the only ones affected; that the ordinary people of Vietnam were endlessly uprooted and persecuted and forced to say goodbye to everything they had ever known. I recently read Duong Thu Huong's Paradise of the Blind, post-war Vietnamese angst for grown-ups. In Inside Out and Back Again, we get the conflict told in verse through a child's eyes, and the result is desperate and heartbreaking.
Novels in verse, especially YA and middle grade novels in verse, are something of a crapshoot for me. It either really works, or it really doesn't, without much ground in between. Thankfully, Inside Out and Back Again falls into the former category, and its luscious wordplay was enough to make me long for papaya as much as Ha does. Ha's tumultuous year, beginning and ending on the Vietnamese New Year (called Tết), accomplishes what few historical and multicultural "issue" books do--it makes us not only aware of conflicts and problems, but rather gives us a stake in them as well.
In fact, my biggest problem with novels in verse--my lack of emotional connection--was a non-issue with Inside Out and Back Again. Ha's story (also author Thanha Lai's story) is incredibly affecting, mostly because of its verse style: prose would have taken it dangerously close to melodramatic territory. The simple and light way Ha sees the world, even in the most desperate of times--asking the "cowboy" who sponsors the family when she can ride the horse he doesn't have, fighting with her brothers, learning English, waiting for her father to come home--brought the Vietnam War home in a way that nothing else has for me.
I cried twice, which surprised me. Maybe a 'Nam story hits too close to home now, when my country is embroiled in yet another conflict far away where foreign civilians bear the brunt of the casualties. Maybe it's because it's a coming of age story, when I am in the midst of coming of age myself. Either way, Inside Out and Back Again is one of the few middle grade novels I've read recently that I can wholeheartedly recommend for all ages. Thanha Lai has a story to tell, and she tells it so well that your perception of the War, of refugees, of immigration, and of yourself can never be the same.
...and the Short:
A luscious coming-of-age story that is both well-written and emotionally affecting; a bittersweet glimpse at an ugly chapter of history.
The Final Verdict: Loved it.