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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Inside Out and Back Again, written by Thanhha Lai. Harper, 2011. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"Everyone knows the ship
could sink,
unable to hold
the piles of bodies
that keep crawling on
like raging ants
from a disrupted nest."

This is only one of the many passages from this beautiful book that I would like to share with you. There are such lovely, poignant, humorous and heartbreaking verses that I had to keep going back to read them again.

The immediate follow-up to the one above comes from the section named At Sea and tears at my heart:

"But no one
is heartless enough
to say
because what if
they had been
before their turn?"

It is a story based on her own experiences and Thanhha Lai gives life and voice to each of her characters, while also sharing a moving escape from Vietnam and a new life in America. She lives with her mother, and her three older brothers. Their father has been gone for nine years, since Ha was just one year old. Her mother never gives up the dream that her husband will return. As the war moves closer, her mother makes the decision to take her children and flee Saigon by boat. Luckily, they find a family sponsor in Alabama, and life changes dramatically for each one of them.

Ha is the narrator. Her voice is strong; even strident. Once in America, she is homesick, she is angry with all the changes made without her opinion, she is facing struggles with learning English and not being as school-smart as she was in Vietnam, she is bullied by new classmates. But, she is much more than all that. She loves and protects her brother Khoi, she learns self-defence from her brother Vu and her oldest brother Quang may be the real catalyst for change as Tet is celebrated for the first time in their new home. It has taken time but Ha is growing and learning:

"I pray for
Father to find warmth in his new home,
Mother to keep smiling more,
Brother Quang to enjoy his studies,
Vu Lee to drive me from and to school,
Brother Khoi to hatch an American chick.

I open my eyes.
The others are still praying.

What could they be asking for?

I think and think
then close my eyes again.
This year I hope

I truly learn
to fly-kick,
not to kick anyone
so much as
to fly."

A powerful novel in verse, with never-to-be-forgotten characters, four separate and intense sections, beautifully told.

1 comment:

  1. I really loved this book and thought it was a good "girl book" version of "All the Broken Pieces", which is also a novel in verse set during the Vietnam War.

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