Wednesday, April 5, 2017

young adult annotation: Inside out & back again

Inside out & back again
By Thanhha Lai

Genre: Historical fiction, Young adult fiction, Novel in verse
Publication date: 2011
Number of pages: 262


Ten year-old Hà has grown up in Saigon with the Vietnam War as a persistent reality of daily life.  Hà’s father disappeared on a navy mission when she was a baby, soldiers patrol the neighborhood nightly, and her mother rarely smiles anymore. And despite these and other traumas, wartime Saigon is the setting of Hà’s vibrant life, her home. In the months leading up to the fall of Saigon in 1975, friends and neighbors slowly begin to flee their homes. Along with her mother and three older brothers, Hà packs her bag and says goodbye to her house, her papaya tree, and her sense of belonging. They spend weeks at sea on an overcrowded ship before they reach Guam and then, later, America. At the mercy of a sponsor, Hà’s family is resettled in Alabama, where they must each start over again, in school, in language, in creating a home. “No one would believe me,” she writes, “but at times / I would choose / wartime in Saigon / over / peacetime in Alabama.”


The storyline is driven by the characters and notable moments of Hà’s experiences during this momentous year of her life. The characters are relatable and poignantly portrayed. The book is written sparsely in verse, and, despite the relatively few words, Lai’s style is lush, rich and candid. Perhaps it’s Lai’s economy of words that contributes to Hà’s effortlessly piercing and insightful observations about her surroundings. The pace is leisurely, and each day’s entry begs to be re-read.


The land I lost (1982)
Huynh, Quang Nhuong
“A collection of personal reminiscences of the author's youth in a hamlet on the central highlands of Vietnam.” (NoveList)

Out of the dust (1997)
Hesse, Karen
“In a series of poems, fourteen-year-old Billie Jo relates the hardships of living on her family's wheat farm in Oklahoma during the dust bowl years of the Depression.” (NoveList)

90 Miles to Havana (2010)
Flores-Galbis, Enrique
“When Julian's parents send him and his two brothers to Miami to escape from the Cuban revolution, the boys are thrust into a new world where bullies run rampant and it is not always clear how best to protect themselves.” (NoveList)

Brown girl dreaming (2014)
Woodson, Jacqueline
“In vivid poems that reflect the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, an award-winning author shares what it was like to grow up in the 1960s and 1970s in both the North and the South.” (NoveList)


  1. This sounds like an interesting book! It would be a great one to include for units on immigration and different cultures. It sounds like a book that would help you relate to the feelings of people who move or come into another culture. I see that the setting is in the 1970's. Can you tell from the entries that it set in the past? Obviously it is historical fiction due to the time setting and the war background, but does it feel that way? Is this told only from Hà's point of view or do we see what the other members of her family face as well? I love character-driven stories!

  2. I have passed by this book on the shelf, but I never thought to pick it up. I had no idea what it was about and it sounds fascinating. I love that it is in verse because it reads quicker. That sounds terrible, but I don't often have time for big books. Great annotation!

  3. I have read two of the book alikes on your list and I am thinking that I might have to read this one as well! I really love books that have the verse concept to them. Did you like it as well? Great selection and annotation.

  4. Great annotation! I've never picked this one up but your excellent post has inspired me! Full points!

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