Inside Out & Back Again
By Thanhha Lai
Published 2011 by HarperCollins
Hmm...I don't know how to do special characters in here, so the main character's name is not going to be spelled properly. Just an FYI, I suppose - there should be an accent mark over the "a" in her name. Ha loves Saigon, even though things have grown increasingly difficult in her ten years there. But when her family moves to Alabama to flee the war, Ha finds herself longing to be back in Saigon more than anything.
This book has won a lot of honors recently, but it caught my eye even before that, since I have a particular fondness for novels in verse. I picked it up because I always want to read award-winning books and I figured this one would be a quick read that I could squeeze in among my many other books. This was indeed a quick read and a very well-written book as well. It's a bit of a hard topic for children, but I think it's very well-done. I think this book does a great job of getting kids to see through the eyes of a refugee child. I think Ha is a well-constructed character - she has a personality and she is endearing enough that I rooted for her. The first part of the book is, for me, the strongest - the language is very evocative and the picture painted through the poems is quite lovely. It made me feel like I knew the Saigon she was speaking of. However, once she gets to Alabama, it doesn't seem as clear - it feels like she could be in any state in America, not necessarily Alabama specifically. I think the members of Ha's family would be really interesting to read about as well - I would have liked more chances getting to know them better. Overall, I enjoyed this book and I think it's a book that could educate a lot of kids in an enjoyable way but I'm not sure if it's truly outstanding.