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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Thanhha Lai

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1,5022694,928 (4.27)69
Title:Inside Out and Back Again
Authors:Thanhha Lai
Info:HarperCollins (2011), Hardcover, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:Newberry Award, young girl, Vietnam, bully

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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011)


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Showing 1-5 of 268 (next | show all)
A Vietnamese girl and her family escape to America and face new hardships. Good for grades 5 through 9. Blank verse novel, short read. Curricular connections: Students could select a single thought or occurrence from their lives and write a page on it in blank verse. ( )
  KristineCA | Apr 26, 2016 |
This award-winning story is told from Ha's perspective in prose of somewhat broken English, yet typed in a poetic format. It is easy to read, short lines, few words on each page, every one to three pages is a new day. The story begins in Saigon where Ha, her mother, and three older brothers live. Ha's father has gone missing in action. The family is trying to hold onto hope while Vietnam is filled with war and strife. The war has not yet come to Saigon.

The author's firsthand experiences as an immigrant, torn a way from her native land of Vietnam when she was ten years old is the structure upon which this novel is based.

For one year, we follow Ha's thoughts, emotions, and actions, written into her diary. In the beginning, Saigon seems far from the war zone so life seems fairly normal from a ten year old's eyes and heart. She knows and loves this city. The disappearance of her father as he serves in the South Vietnamese army brings the war much closer to Ha's heart, yet she still goes about her days. The Vietnam War quickly moves closer to Saigon and the family must flee.

We follow Ha as she boards a ship to the United States, eventually landing in Alabama. Living there brings on a whole new set of problems for Ha. She is young and vulnerable as an immigrant. Bullying and teasing are a daunting reality for Ha, yet there are others who truly care about Ha and her family. Caring comes through an American teacher as well as from the man who "sponsored" them.
The story seems and feels so real. This is the diary of a girl in an extremely difficult period of her young life. Thanhha Lai writes from personal life events, placing some of those into Ha's hands. Her words are written superbly bringing a story of what a child, a ten year old, experiences in having to flee her native country and only home she has ever known.

The ESL teacher who cares about Ha and her family is real for me. I was an ESL teacher to sixty elementary-aged children for a number of years during my teaching career. There were thirteen languages spoken among those sixty children. Even the children could not communicate very well at first with one another. The language barrier was HUGE! It was vital that the children learned the language of their new country because they became the bridge for the parents in many cases. The children took their English lessons home each day to teach their parents and others in the neighborhoods where they found themselves. Immigrants from many Far Eastern countries, Mexico, Central America, and even one child from Romania were among my children. See how I still call them "my children." I just loved them and wanted the best for them as they had lost so much.

English is a tough language to learn. There are so very many exceptions to the rules, so many words that sound alike but mean different things. So much to try to understand.

Ha writes:
"August 30

Fourth Rule

Some verbs

switch all over

just because.

I am

She is

They are

He was

They were

Would be simpler

if English

and life were logical."
"September 30

Spelling Rules


the spelling changes

when adding an s.

Knife becomes knives.


a c is used

instead of a k,

even if

it makes more sense

for cat to be spelled kat.


a y is used

instead of an e,

even if

it makes more sense

for moldy to be spelled molde.

Whoever invented English

should have learned

to spell."

And there are many more delightful insights into the language I call mine.
This window into a ten year old's shattered and changing life is filled with introspection and insight into what children go through when we, as adults, are busy trying to care for them and handle everything else, living in the stresses of war, emigrating, loss of a husband, and so much more. The children are going through their own battles and have years ahead of them in which to live with these life-changing events in their own ways. With our world of today (2016) filled with war-torn countries, families fleeing for their lives, fleeing to safety and hope, this one year from a girl's heart, soul, and mind gives the reader a real glimpse into the lives of many we may have in our own neighborhoods.


I wake up with


zipping through

my gut.

...It helps that

the morning air glides cool

like a constant washcloth

against my face.

Reading Level: 8 - 12 years

Thanhha Lai was born in Saigon, Vietnam. After the Vietnam War in 1975, her family immigrated to Montgomery, Alabama. She currently lives north of New York City.

"Most importantly, I’ve started a not-for-profit organization called Viet Kids Inc. to buy bicycles for poor students in Vietnam."

You can find Ms. Lai here.

A second novel has recently been published and is a bestseller too: Listen, Slowly


National Book Award for Young People's Literature, 2011
Newbery Honor, 2012
New York Times Bestseller
Jane Addams Children's Book Award Honor for Older Children, 2012
ALA Notable Children's Book 2012, Middle
Booklist 2011 Editors' Choice, Books for Youth, Fiction, Middle Reader
Kirkus Reviews Best Children's Books of 2011
Publishers Weekly Best Children's Books 2011, Fiction
SLJ Best Books of 2011, Fiction
Booklist Lasting Connections of 2012, Social Studies
Notable Children's Book in the English Language Arts, 2012
CCBC Choices, 2012
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2012, World History & Culture ( )
  lindalou924 | Apr 22, 2016 |
"Inside Out and Back Again" is a true account of a young girl and her family going to America from Vietnam. The structure of this story is in the structure of verse, but still has plenty of information. On the other hand, this story is very heartfelt and saddening at the same time due to the life Ha has when first in America. First off, she meets many people who are first somewhat cold and just want to submerge her, her mother, and brothers into the American lifestyle. Later, Miss. Washington helps Ha learn English and becomes more welcoming. However, Ha is teased at school because she is not from America, talks different, and is very quiet. This would be a good book for children who do not like to read very much because it reads very quickly, and the language is not difficult to read. The only aspect of the story I did not like is that the author was not very explicit as to what had happened to the father at the end of the story; as I was reading, i Implied that he had died in Vietnam, but it was never explicitly said or even told in a soft way. This was a large portion of the beginning of the story, so I felt it should have been more specific. ( )
  rprotz2 | Apr 18, 2016 |
In “Inside Out and Back Again,” Thanha Li uses language to give the book more impact and meaning. The writing creates a deeper connection between readers and the protagonist. The poetic elements specifically give the book meaning because they are used as a window into the main character; the poems are expressions from the main character about her family, her school, her friends, and her experiences. Even though I’m not personally a fan of this book, the power and meaning of the book are evident. The recurring symbols and poetic elements really reinforce the theme that the best way to get through tough times is with the help of family and friends. ( )
  tmoore3 | Apr 18, 2016 |
The semi-autobiographical book of free-verse poems captures Ha’s honest emotions as her family becomes refugees escaping war-torn Vietnam. The narrative poetry could be used as an example of different ways of writing and telling a story. The book could also be used in comparison to other accounts during the Vietnam war. ( )
  Tara.Haupt | Apr 15, 2016 |
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To the millions of refugees in the world, may you each find a home
First words
1975: Year of the Cat / Today is Tet, / the first day / of the lunar calendar. / Every Tet / we eat sugary lotus seeds / and glutinous rice cakes. / We wear all new clothes, / even underneath.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061962783, 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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:04 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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