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Review: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Title: Inside Out and Back Again
Author: Thanhha Lai
Year Published: 2011

Genre: Young Adult fiction and romance
Pages: 213
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Geography Connection (my Google Reading map): Vietnam and USA (Alabama)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): For all of the ten years of her life, Ha 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 papua tree. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Ha 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.

Review: I read this book in one sitting and boy is it good. It says it is written for ages 8 to 12, but I really enjoyed it. No wonder it won the National Book Award and was a Newberry Honor book.

The main character is modeled on the author and her experiences as she left Vietnam during the fall of Saigon at age 10. The book is divided up into three parts: Saigon; the boat trip; and Alabama. I thought each section was fascinating and beautifully written. Oh yeah, did I mention that it's written in verse? I think the verse style adds to the beauty of this book and that is saying something since I am not usually a verse fan. But in this instance the verse helped me get into the rhythm of the story.

I like the main character and sympathized with her at every turn as she enjoyed celebrating Tet in Saigon, boarding the boat and hoping to be rescued, and arriving in the US, hoping for a sponsor. What a great idea to tell the story from the perspective of a child. We don't get a lot of the history of the time, but rather what it felt like to live through the experiences. We delight in her awe as she watches her own papaya tree ripen, we empathize as they spend time below deck on the ship, and got angry with her as American bullies make her transition to life in Alabama difficult.

This is a universal story of struggle, acceptance, and culture that will surely delight readers of all ages.

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