Monday, July 30, 2012

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday: Inside Out and Back Again

Today’s pick: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

HarperCollins, 2011

Publisher’s Description:

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.

 My take:
This story was quick and easy to read, but it had a huge emotional impact. Before I read this story, I didn’t know much about the effects of the Vietnam war, though I’d heard of “boat people”. Although this is fiction, the author did move to Alabama at the end of the war, so her real life experiences allowed her to include many details and images to make this story of a ten-year-old girl come alive. I don’t usually choose novels in verse (though I’m warming up to them) but I think it was an effective way to tell this story. I liked Ha’s character and personality, I wanted to see her succeed and overcome the many obstacles in her life.

As a writer, I admired the way the author could use so few words to create compelling emotion and imagery.

How I discovered this book:
I recently looked at the list of recent Newbery Medal andHonor books and decided I should read more of them, so I got this one at the library.

Other info:
Thanhha Lai lives in New York and worked as a journalist for a short time before deciding to concentrate on writing fiction.
She was born in Vietnam in 1965—the year of the snake.
This is her first novel.
According to the Harper Collins website, she tries to read a novel a night: “If I love the novel, I read every word until I finish it. If not so much, I flip and get the essence of what the writer is doing.”

For more about the author, visit Thanhha Lai's author page at Harper Collins. 

***Marvelous Middle Grade Monday was dreamed up by the incredible Shannon Messenger. Visit her blog for an up-to-date list of all the bloggers who are participating and posting about middle grade books today!***


  1. This sounds like a good book. And I'm warming to books in verse too. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. I keep hearing about this book. I need to get a copy.

  3. I, too, read this after it had won its awards but didn't know it was a novel in verse until I brought it home from the library. It's beautiful.

  4. I've read so many good reviews of this, but my students are NOT fans of this one. Middle school students usually don't want to read books in verse.

    1. So true. My 16-year-old picked it up and enjoyed it but the 12-year-old didn't go for it.

  5. I read this book twice and loved it! I think Ms. Lai is a very talented author and I look forward to her next book.

  6. Yay! So excited to find a book that's available at the library. Thanks for the great review!

  7. I enjoyed this (the first book in verse I have read) and also highlighted it for MMGM last week!

    Interesting how Ms. Yingling said her students do go for books in verse...

  8. I've heard mention of this book before, thanks for reminding me about it. I love books that teach about history, even though they are fiction. Definitely adding to the to-read list.

  9. I have heard such great things about this book and I am very curious about it. The fact that it is written in verse is intriguing. I love the cover. Great review!

  10. I've been dying to get my hands on this book. I think it's so good that we are getting more books on other cultures.

  11. One of my favorite reads this year. I agree on the power story she told in such a short space. I especially loved the relationships Ha developed over the course of her first year and loved how the author used New Year to bring the story full circle. Masterful storytelling. K--I am done a talking!


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