keeperInside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Release Date: February 22, 2011
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source: Digital Copy
Rating: starstarstarstarstar
Buy It: Amazon | IndieBound

Inside Out and Back Again is a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award! Inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. 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 . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing received four starred reviews, including one from Kirkus which proclaimed it “enlightening, poignant, and unexpectedly funny.” An author’s note explains how and why Thanhha Lai translated her personal experiences into Hà’s story. – Goodreads

This is another book for my literacy class, but I chose it myself based on the fact that it’s a Jane Addams award winner and the struggle of fitting in has always been something I could relate to. Ha, at 10, is the youngest in her family and the only girl. Her brothers, 14, 18, and 21, make fun of her, and she longs for a sister. War is ravaging Vietnam and only getting closer to Saigon. Ha’s father has been gone for nine years after being captured while on a Navy mission, and her family is preparing to flee.

They are on a boat for a few week, hungry, dirty, awaiting rescue. It finally comes, and Ha is fascinated by the bearded American soldiers. They land in Guam, where they attempt to learn English and watch Western movies. They eventually go to Florida, then are finally sponsored by a family in Alabama, which leads them to their own rented house.

Ha has a hard time in school. She can’t explain that she already understands fractions, and she doesn’t have the words to understand how the other kids are making fun of her. It’s sad and hard to read. Kids can be cruel, especially when it comes to anything even slightly different. The words escalate to pranks and even violence, but then Ha’s family meets Miss Washington, who offers to tutor them all.

This book made me cry, because this little girl feels so much frustration and loss and gets almost no reward for it. She has her moments of childish selfishness, but that’s typical, and she’s a fish out of water in Alabama, of all places. It’s another coming-of-age tale, but it’s also a tale of social justice, understanding, acceptance, and love.