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82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, sad, poetic
I love narrative poetry, and this book was no exception. At the height of the Vietnam War, 10 year-old Kim Ha is forced to leave Saigon with her mother and older brothers. Her father has been missing for several years, and the family continually hopes for his return. The decision to leave is heartwrenching, knowing that if they go, there will be no real way for their...
Published on May 8, 2011 by Madigan McGillicuddy

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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Courage and Love to Make it Through
In Saigon, Vietnam stands a papaya tree owned by a girl whose life will soon be changed around. This girl's name is "Ha." She and her family heard that war was taking place but took no action until one night a loud boom woke their sleep. The war was only a second away. Shortly after, Ha and her family fled to America but the changes for them were indescribable. It took...
Published on May 25, 2012 by Young Mensan BookParade


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82 of 87 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, sad, poetic, May 8, 2011
This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
I love narrative poetry, and this book was no exception. At the height of the Vietnam War, 10 year-old Kim Ha is forced to leave Saigon with her mother and older brothers. Her father has been missing for several years, and the family continually hopes for his return. The decision to leave is heartwrenching, knowing that if they go, there will be no real way for their father to find them again, if indeed, he is still alive. Ha's mother gives her children the option of saving one thing... everything else must be destroyed, so as not to leave any evidence behind for the invading soldiers.

Once aboard the ship, the family suffers from extremely close quarters and lack of food. The boat captain's unlucky snap judgement on the best escape route means that their journey is drawn out much longer than they had anticipated, necessitating rationing. People grow ruthless and hoard what little food they have. The ship is rescued by Americans, and the families make their way to the States. Salvation? Hardly. Ha and her family end up in Alabama in the early-70's, with racial tensions at an all time high. After everything she's been through, Ha must endure appallingly racist bullies at school, as well as condescending teachers, who don't understand that just because she hasn't learned English perfectly yet, that doesn't mean that she isn't a bright and extremely observant girl. Ha is desperately homesick and finds heavily-processed American food disgusting compared to the fresh papayas and traditional Vietnamese fare that she is used to.

At this point, I really began to wish for some sort of break from the unrelenting sadness of the story - whether by comic relief, or a sympathetic character to lighten the tension. I had hoped that Ha's neighbor, Miss Washington would fill the bill, but even though she's kindly and means well, ultimately she comes across as a dotty old lady who doesn't quite get it.

A semi-autobiographical story, this book is simultaneously difficult to read, and very accessible. The four "chapters" it's broken into: Saigon, At Sea, Alabama, and From Now On, neatly break up the action. The emotional turmoil that Ha goes through makes this book quite challenging indeed, but the words flow so smoothly it's hard not to get drawn in to the tale. The writing was wonderfully crafted and made reading about the immigrant experience completely compelling. As powerful, arresting and in some ways just as sad as The Bridge to Terabithia, Inside Out and Back Again could definitely be a Newbery contender.
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely & thought-provoking, June 21, 2011
This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN is a beautiful novel-in-verse about a young girl who flees Vietnam as Saigon is falling and makes a new home with her mother and brothers in Alabama. Based on the author's own experiences as a child immigrant, the poems are spare and lovely, and they manage to capture both the sense of wonder and the feeling of isolation of a newcomer in a world where everything seems different. As a teacher, one thing I found especially interesting and heartbreaking was Ha's feeling of suddenly not being smart any more when she enrolled in her new school in America - such a common experience for gifted kids who encounter a language and culture barrier in a new home.

I really enjoyed this book and think readers in grades 4-7 will love it, too. It'd be great as a classroom read-aloud or for literature circles. Consider recommending it along with CRACKER: THE BEST DOG IN VIETNAM by Cynthia Kadohata and ALL THE BROKEN PIECES, an equally beautiful novel in verse by Ann Burg,as a way to explore Vietnam from different perspectives. It would also be fantastic paired with Katherine Applegate's HOME OF THE BRAVE, which is also an immigrant story in verse, from the point of view of a boy from Africa. Both books are short and poignant, and readers will come away with a much better understanding of what it feels like to land in a strange, new world and try to make that place home.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inside Out & Back Again, May 30, 2011
By 
Heidi Grange (Logan, UT United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
Ha has spent all of her ten years in Saigon (Vietnam). She knows the markets, she does well in school, and she loves the papaya tree that she planted behind her family's house. But the war is creeping ever closer and her mother struggles to provide enough food. As it becomes apparent that Saigon will fall to the Communist North, Ha and her family make a painful choice to flee the country in hopes of finding refuge. When they land in America things seem to be working out, but as Ha struggles to adapt to a new language, a new religion, new climate, and new food, she wonders if it wouldn't have been better to stay in Vietnam. And what about the father she has never met who went missing nine years earlier?

Usually I am not a big fan of novels written in free verse. I like my poetry to be poetry and my stories to be prose. But I have had the privilege of reading this book and several others that have convinced me that done right, free verse can be particularly powerful. This story is based on the author's experiences as a child and maybe that's why they are so realistic. I promise you will not be able to read this book without feeling compassion for Ha and her family. You will cheer for their successes and feel discomfort at the poor treatment they receive from many. The book provides a thought-provoking look at a topic (immigration) that remains controversial still. Highly recommended.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why This Book is a Novel, Not just a Book of Poems, June 22, 2012
This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
Acceptance Doesn't Mean Giving Up
Although, the book Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, looks as if it is a book of poems, it has all the essential elements of a novel. The necessary elements for a novel are characters, a setting, a plot, and a theme and this novel definitely has them. Not only that, it has a traditional story arc, which always contains a recognizable beginning, middle, and end. Finally, Inside Out and Back Again has chapters, just like a novel would. Every novel needs characters and a setting. Some characters in this novel are Ha, her family, Pink Face, Steven, Pam, The Cowboy, Mrs. Washington, and the other kids in Ha's school. Ha is the protagonist, and Pink Face is the antagonist. This novel also has a setting; as a matter of fact it has several. A few of them are Saigon, Guam, Florida, and Alabama. Since the chapters identify where the next setting will be, they are especially important in this novel. As the story unfolds, Ha is moving to the U.S.A, because she was fleeing her home, which is Saigon, Vietnam in a small boat. Escaping in a tiny boat was dangerous, especially during war time. Further evidence of a plot in this novel may be found when Ha is challenged by the issues of life in a new school and the problems she has to learn how to face, like when the kids in her school chase her and then Pink Face pulls her hair, the first time he ever assaulted her with anything except his words.
Every novel has a theme, and this "Collection of Poems" has one, too. A theme is very important because that is pretty what Ha needs to learn. For example, when Ha has gotten dried papaya as a present, but she doesn't like it because it wasn't the same as the papaya in Saigon, so she just threw it away. When she wakes up the next morning, she feels guilty, and then she finds the dried papaya on the table. Ha tries it, and she thinks, "Not the same, but not bad at all" (pg 234). The theme in this novel is introduced when Ha starts being bullied in school. At first she expected that people would change for her. But, they didn't.
During this time she has a few choices on what to do; she could do nothing, she could ask for help, she could fight back, or she could accept her new home and adapt to it. She first chose to do nothing and ignored it. Ha was too proud to ask for help, but her friend Mrs. Washington knew how Ha felt, so she helped her without being asked. Later, when Pink Face pulled her hair, Ha couldn't take it anymore and fought back. She felt powerful for the first time.
Inside out and Back Again has the necessary elements that every novel needs. This novel has a story arc, because it has an exposition, rising action, conflict, climax, falling action, and resolution. Every novel needs chapters and this one does and in this novel they are extremely important. It is common for people to have expectations about how things should look. If people think something looks different from what they expected, they feel something is wrong with it. Just because it doesn't look like a novel doesn't mean it isn't one. Just because a dried papaya doesn't look or taste like a papaya from home, doesn't mean it isn't one. This is when Ha learns that just because her new home doesn't look like Saigon, doesn't mean she can't make it one. If she chooses to.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely loved this book, January 6, 2012
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This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
This book is beautiful. I thought I would be a crying mess the entire time I read it, but thankfully it wasn't overly sad- despite the context. Ha is a young girl who paints a picture for us of what it was like living in South Vietnam during the war. While there is definitely danger, and money is tight and times hard are everywhere- she explains that she loved her life, her house, her papaya tree. Her family is able to escape after the country fell on a navy ship that is picked up by Americans. Her family is eventually sponsored (allowed to leave the refugee camp)and moves to Alabama, where they are all forced to start over, learn a new language and deal with a vastly different culture that is sometimes hostile and sometimes generous.

What I liked the most about this book is that Ha is not overly optimistic about all that has happened. Shes upset, mad, and scared. Her family helps each member through it, but it isn't easy. In fact, at one point, she says she would rather live in war torn Vietnam than in peaceful Alabama. She struggles with feeling stupid when she used to feel smart back at home. I loved when her teacher (whose son died in the Vietnam war) bonds with Ha and begins to protect and help her. I love that Ha is still just a child and has to learn to deal with her anger, stubbornness and even fear of school bullies... all feelings which every single person can identify with. I have never read a book written in prose before, but I loved this one.

"I count up to twenty.
The class claps
On its own.

I'm furious,
Unable to explain
I already learned
Fractions
And how to purify
River water.

So this is
What dumb
Feels like.

I hate, hate, hate it." (P. 157)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inside Out and Back Again, May 26, 2011
By 
M. Tanenbaum (Claremont, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
In this story written in a series of free verse poems, debut novelist Thanhha Lai spins a moving and compelling tale of a young Vietnamese girl who moves with her family from war-torn Saigon to Alabama in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam war. When the book opens, Hà and her family are celebrating Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. She lives with her three older brothers and her mother; she can't remember her father, a navy officer, who was captured by the enemy years before, and no one knows if he is even still alive.

As the war approaches Saigon, Hà and her family must prepare to leave, packing just a few belongings with them. A particularly poignant poem itemizes what they must leave behind, including "Brother Quang's/report cards,/each ranking him first in class,/beginning in kindergarten..." Hà must leave her beloved papaya tree, where the fruit is still not ripe. Author Lai does a wonderful job of evoking the sights, smells and sounds of Vietnam for the American reader.

Their voyage by ship is dangerous and miserable, with not enough food, water, lights, or bathroom facilities. When they finally reach the open sea, they are rescued by an American ship, which tows them to a refugee camp in Guam. Where will they go from there? They choose America, where Hà 's mother believes there will be opportunities for her children to go to college. But first they must be sponsored by an American family. Finally a "cowboy" rescues them, and they go off to Alabama.

It's almost impossible to imagine how foreign Alabama must have been for these Vietnamese immigrants, until we read "American Chicken." In this poem, Hà explains how their cowboy brings them "a paper bucket of chicken/skin crispy and golden,/smelling of perfection/..." But when they taste the meat, her mother spits it out, and her brother gags; "Brother Quang forces/a swallow/before explaining/we are used to/fresh-killed chicken/that roamed the yard/snacking on/grains and worms/...I bite down on a thigh;/might as well bite down on/bread soaked in water./ Still,/I force yum-yum sounds."

For Hà , it's a world of "clean, quiet loneliness." And living on the charity of others isn't easy for Hà and her family, who were used to a nice standard of living in Saigon. Hà is befuddled by the idiosyncrasies of the English language, remarking that "whoever invented English should be bitten by a snake." Her classmates make fun of her, and she hates feeling dumb, having to learn ABC's and numbers when in her own country she knew fractions and was the smartest in her class. It's hard not to wish to be invisible in this strange new place.

However, some Americans are kind to Hà and her family; a neighbor tutors them all in English, their "cowboy" brings them gifts of chips and chocolate, and her teacher lets her eat lunch in her classroom to avoid the misery of the cafeteria and the tyranny of bullies. Will Hà succeed in building a new life for herself in this new country?

Although she comes from a background foreign to most of us, readers will nonetheless identify with Hà's spunky character, her squabbles with her brothers, and her difficulties fitting into her new life. This novel is already getting some early Newbery buzz, and it's definitely one to put on your to-read list.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read for all ages and abilities, April 5, 2011
This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
I loved this book! Every time I was interupted in the course of reading it I felt a sense of excitement to get back to it and see what would happen next. This book is written in a language that everyone can understand. I have been a Special Education Teacher for over a decade in New York City. Many of my students are from single parent families and face many obstacles to both academic success and social belonging. Often times I have found myslef in a classroom where there are students reading on 4-5 different grade levels in one class. Choosing books that all of the students will not only read but relate too is a very daunting task. "Inside Out and Back Again" is a story that all students can relate to at some level. The story Ha tells is one of triumph in the face of many obstacles. In this book students will read a story that reveals the complex relationships between siblings, the mixed emotions felt toward the "surviving/single" parent, the sacrifices made by every member of the family and the uanswered questions of a father very present in his absence. You don't have to be a survivor of the Vietnam War to relate to the emotions stirred by this book. I think my students will relate to Ha's feelings of inferiority when she moves to Alabama and finds she's not so "smart". Her frustration is one shared by struggling students everywhere. This is only one of the many layers revealed by the main character. With the current trend in Education being one that overlaps English Language Arts and Social Studies this book gives teachers an opportunity to introduce or reinforce students understanding of the fall out of the Vietnam War both in Vietnam and the United States. What I like most about this book is that it's not one of mere tragedy. It is uplifting, triumphant and in many areas laugh out loud funny. This is a book that every teacher should have in their collection. I would definitly recommend it for readers of any age and reading level.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poignant and compelling, February 9, 2012
By 
This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
This book captivated me with its beauty and honesty. It's the diary of a young Vietnamese girl named Ha, told in a series of poignant narrative poems. Her journey takes her from war-torn but beloved Saigon, onto a crowded refugee ship, and finally to her bewildering new home of Alabama. Clashing cultures is a understatement for what Ha experiences. Her story is beautiful, personal, honest, funny, and compelling.

I left this book with a renewed sense of compassion and understanding for those around me. Ha doesn't just teach us about life during the Vietnam War. She shows us a familiar world through new eyes: how fried chicken can be unpalatable, how the English language can be immensely confusing, how well-meant charity can be difficult to live with. We feel her frustration and difficulty in fitting into a school that is already divided along white-and-black racial lines and doesn't seem to have a place for someone who fits with neither. We enter into her family's interactions, as they struggle alongside one another in the newness. We rejoice in the occasional moments of warmth and understanding she finds around her.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Walk a mile in someone else's mocassins, February 2, 2012
This review is from: Inside Out and Back Again (Hardcover)
Told as an easily read poem, this is the story of Ha` and of her family's harrowing escape to a refugee camp after the fall of Saigon. Just ten, her father MIA, she soon finds herself, with her older brothers and her mother, a stranger in a very strange land - Alabama. Here, struggling with the new language, her color--neither "black" nor "white"--she is taunted, chased and mocked. Here, eggs and bricks are thrown at her house. Here, her family discovers that it is safer be baptized at their big-hearted sponsor's evangelical church than to admit they are Buddhists. So far, this sounds pretty grim, not the usual 8-12 year old fare, but I was entirely enthralled by Ha`'s story. Her insights about her new country and the people in it are witty, out-of-the-mouths-of-babes spot on, all while remaining utterly true to the heart and mind of her age group. Funny, heart-breaking, uplifting, melancholy, joyous--it's all in here. I highly recommend this book. It should be read in schools, placed in libraries, and used by Sunday School teachers, too.
* Review first appeared in The Historical Novel Society magazine
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Needed happier stuff, April 9, 2014
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This is a sad book about a girl who escaped the Vietnam War and moved to Alabama. The parts set in America are even sadder than the ones where she escapes the war because she is bullied. I would recommend it for ages 9-11 or for really smart 8-year-olds like me.

Estella
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Inside Out and Back Again
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (Hardcover - February 22, 2011)
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