Inside Out & Back Again

Reviewed by Charlotte Wells, Age 10 I just finished reading the book Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011), and I recommend it to other young readers from eight to 12 years old.

The novel is written like a poem, which expresses the thoughts of the main character. This made the book unique, and different, from other books I have read.  Being able to “hear” what was going on inside the mind of the main character Hà helped me to understand her better. 

The author, Thanhha Lai, based the story on her own life. Like the 10-year-old girl named Hà who is forced from her home in Saigon because of the Vietnam War, the author also immigrated to the United States after the war.

The book showed me how hard it might be for kids who move to a new place. Because of the war, Hà had to movve to the United States, where she faced many challenges. She had to adjust to new foods, new ways of doing things, and learn a new, confusing language. She also had to deal with bullies who made fun of her because she didn’t speak English well, and because she looked different from everyone else. “No one would believe me,” she says, “but at times I would chose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.”

The story takes place over the course of one year in Hà’s life and describes how she continues to learn and adjust to her circumstances with the help of her family and friends. When Hà was missing fresh papaya, a neighbor gave her some dried papaya to try. Hà didn’t like the sweet, chewy dried fruit at first, but after her mother soaked it in water for her, she decided that while it was different—it was also good.  This was how she come to think of many things in her new home, as different—but also good.   

Can you imagine not being able to speak the language, or having to learn all new things in school that you can’t even understand? I couldn’t. I never knew that immigrants might have such a hard time adjusting to a new place. They must often learn a new language, they may have a hard time making friends, and sometimes they must face unkind classmates who make fun of them. I really liked this book because it helped put me in somebody’s else shoes.

I’m glad I read this book. Hà’s story reminds us to think about the struggles in other people’s lives, and to care for them.

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