Inside Out and Back Again

by Thanhha Lai

Hardcover, 2011



Local notes

Fic Lai



HarperCollins (2011), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 272 pages


Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama.


Original publication date


Physical description

272 p.; 8.45 inches


0061962783 / 9780061962783



User reviews

LibraryThing member Whisper1
One of only two Newbery honor books for 2012, this incredible tale is based on real life experience of the author. Told from the perspective of ten year old Ha, this is a series of beautifully written, insightful poems, about a Vietnamese family who fled their country in 1975.

This is moving, poignant and compelling. Arriving in America after a long boat journey, the family is sponsored and sent to Alabama. As young Ha notes, at times life in war-torn Viet Nam was emotionally safer than southern United States.

Highly recommended!
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LibraryThing member foggidawn
It's 1975, and Hà lives in Saigon with her mother and brothers. Money is tight, but she is happy with her life there. The impending threat from the Communist regime, however, makes her mother uneasy. Should the family stay, or should they try to make their way out of Vietnam to France, Canada, or America? Eventually, Hà and her family find places on a boat leaving Vietnam on April 29th, the day before the Fall of Saigon. After a difficult voyage and a period of adjustment in a refugee camp, Hà's family is sponsored by a man from Alabama. How will Hà and her family adjust to life in a new country, where the language is strange and difficult and not all of the citizens are welcoming?

As with any verse novel, this is a fast read, even with taking time to savor a poetic thought here and there. However, even in this spare, bare-bones format, Hà's personality shines through. She's a little bit spunky, a little bit stubborn, and reminds me a lot of another Newbery Honor-winning heroine -- Ramona Quimby. Hà's struggles with schoolwork, brothers, and schoolyard bullies will resonate with readers, even those who have little knowledge of the politics surrounding the Vietnam War.

So, is this charming book deserving of the honors it has received? Yes, definitely.
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LibraryThing member debnance
It’s the end of the long Vietnam War and Ha and her family live in Vietnam. It’s a beautiful place, despite the war going on all around them, with delicious food and lush gardens. Ha does brilliant work in school and she has a wonderful, close-knit family. It’s a small Eden in the midst of the terrible war.

Then the family cannot put things off any longer; the country they love is collapsing and they must leave Vietnam. The family escapes on a packed boat and is taken in by a cowboy in the American South and life becomes truly surreal for Ha.

A wonderful book that is deeply sad and wildly hopeful.
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LibraryThing member cay250
A wonderful, poignant and funny story in verse based on the author's childhood experiences. The story starts in Saigon in 1975, 10-year-old Kim Hà celebrates Tet (New Year) with her mother and three older brothers. Hà’s father’s been MIA from the South Vietnamese Navy for nine years. On the eve of the fall of Saigon, they finally decide they must escape. With the help of a friend, the family leaves, and they find themselves trapped at sea awaiting rescue. Only one of her brothers speaks English, but they pick America as their destination and eventually find a sponsor in Alabama.

Kim and her family's pain in adjusting to American culture rings so true to me because I also express had the same pain in adjusting the a new country, learning a new language and dealing with the ignorance of the kids I went to school with. This is a wonderful story about the power of the human spirit and the hope for a better future many people find in coming to America. I can't recommend this book enough.
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LibraryThing member skraftdesigns
This book takes place in the mid 70's, when I was in grade school. It does a great job of showing the US and it's school system form an immigrant's point of view. These are the kids that weren't noticed, that excelled in school, and were lonelier than any of us natives cared to realize.
Ha and her mom and brothers escaped from Vietnam during the Tet offensive. They have to leave nearly everything behind and take a long ship ride to the United states. There they are sponsored by a classic North American type, who is able to set them up comfortably. The different culture, language and food are uncomfortable barriers for the whole family. Ha has an especially hard time adjusting to grade school. Kids are mean, making fun of her name among other things, and generally letting her know that she's different. She misses her old home and she starts to feel that she'd rather be in war torn Vietnam than Alabama.
A couple of kids come out of the crowd and befriend her. Her brothers start to find better jobs and aspirations. Ha works on her English and it starts to improve. And Tet is approaching when luck starts over.
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LibraryThing member ref27
Unnecessary verse format. Authentic experience and some lovely writing.
LibraryThing member pataustin
In our schools today, we have so many immigrants who need to see the perspective of other immigrants -- to know they're not alone in their frustrations and feeling lost. Inside Out and Back Again offers such a perspective. Set in 1975, the year of the cat, the first poem of this verse novels plants the reader in the protagonist's native Vietnam. For the native Vietnamese reader, they'll love the familiarity of the Tet traditions. For the American reader, they'll easily relate Tet to our New Year's day celebrations.The format of the book in verse is excellent for esl learners as the words on the page are not so overwhelming.The book begins when the family is in Vietnam; readers see the struggles, see the family's choices of where to emigrate, and experience with the protragonist the alien culture, food, and language.… (more)
LibraryThing member Booklady123
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

From the inside flap:

No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

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, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

I picked this book to read over the holiday break because it had been mentioned by other reviewers as a potential contender for the 2012 Newbery award.

What I liked about this book: I'll be honest. I usually don't enjoy books written in verse. Sharon Creech's Love That Dog is a notable exception. So is Inside Out and Back Again. I really enjoyed this book. Lai paints an a moving picture of a year in the life of a Vietnamese girl who was forced to leave everything behind and try to make a life in a world that is totally foreign to her. Kim Ha is a very likable character - strong even though her world is turned totally upside down. Lai has a way with words that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. Though Kim Ha's story is not an easy one, it is beautifully written.

What I didn't like about this book: I loved it all. I don't know if it is truly Newbery worthy - I've given up trying to decide that since I seldom understand the committee's choices. Whether or not it wins the Newbery, I will be ordering it for our library and recommending it to my students who love a beautifully written story.
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LibraryThing member BornBookish
This is a touching story about the journey of a ten year-old girl named Ha, and her family as they deal with the affects of war and the changes it brings to their lives.

The story is actually based on author Thanhha Lai’s real life experiences as a child.
Told in free verse and divided into four main sections the story flowed seamlessly from one part to the next.

This book focuses on Ha and her family (her three brother and her mother) who flee from Vietnam during the war and end up living in Alabama where they are forced to start over. When Ha starts at a new school where nobody understands her and talks to her like she’s dumb, we get to see the frustration of dealing with a language barrier. We also get to see the power of friendship, which doesn’t always need words.

Ha was one tough cookie for ten years old. She was strong willed and full of emotion, she was spunky, funny, and able to bring humor to some hard situations.

The one thing I found hard to follow was the brothers’ names: Quang, Vu, and Khoi. For some reason I couldn’t keep them straight and didn’t know who was being talked about, until I learned to identify them by personality rather than name.

This was a quick read that took just a little over an hour from start to finish. For such a short book it sure is full of love, life, and loss. I highly recommend you pick it up! I’ll be on the lookout for anything more written by Thanhha in the future.
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LibraryThing member knitwit2
Wonderful story of a young girl and her family fleeing from Viet Nam to Alabama. She tells of her struggles with learning to live in a place that has strnage food, language and customs. Very moving.
LibraryThing member KarenBall
A combination of historical fiction and poetry, this is the story of Ha, who is living in the city of Saigon during the Vietnamese War. Her naval officer father has been kidnapped, leaving her mother to raise four children alone. When the fighting comes to the capital city, Ha's uncle insists that they all leave on one of the boats reserved for naval families... and the boats are overcrowded and supplies are short. With help from an American ship, they make it to Guam, where they are placed in a refugee camp. From there, they are sponsored by a family in Alabama, and learning to live there in the early 1970's is incredibly hard for Ha and her family. Nothing is familiar, and what they have is secondhand - gifts and donations from churches and charities. Ha is tormented at school because her English is so limited, and there is no one else at school who looks like her. But she is smart, feisty, and strongwilled, and though she doubts herself and her family at times, she never loses hope. With the help of their sponsor and a neighbor who is a kindhearted retired teacher, the family holds together and learns how to manage this new life in the United States. A powerful, thought-provoking story of struggle, loss, and rebuilding in an easy to read format -- wonderful combination! 6th grade and up.… (more)
LibraryThing member wortklauberlein
Based on the author's experiences as a child at the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, "Inside Out & Back Again" might trigger a child's interest in that now long ago and faraway war and would be a comfort to anyone who finds herself in a new country, struggling to learn the language and culture.

Ten-year-old Kim Ha begins her story on Feb. 11, 1975, the Tet holiday. She describes her family, mother and three brothers and a sailor-father missing nearly Ha's entire life. She describes her beloved papaya tree, the fruit , "orange-yellow delights/smelling of summer./Middle sweet/between a mango and a pear."

It is not long before the fall of Saigon, however, and the family is lucky enough to cram onto a navy ship heading somewhere toward safety. Their lives whittled down to a sleeping mat and a few prized possessions, they eventually get to a refugee camp in Florida. When a man with a car dealership comes looking for a young man he can train as a mechanic, Ha's mother persuades him to take not just her oldest son but all five family members to Alabama.

In Alabama, the family finds support, opportunity, ignorance, prejudice, a convenient religion, "Green mats of grass/ in front of every house./ Vast windows/ in front of sealed curtains./ Cement lanes where/ no one walks./ Big cars/ pass not often./ Not a noise./ Clean, quiet/ loneliness."

This National Book Award winner is told in a sort of free verse, which seems at first to be a somewhat pretentious way to spread a slender text out to 250 pages. But once the reader becomes accustomed to
reading sentences

a couple of words at a


this form seems apt. The breaks and white space slow the reader, allowing each sentence to be savored, and the effect is a bit like learning to read, or learning a new language.

The writing is impeccable: poetic, yes, and witty, spare and lush both.

"Mother's face crinkles/ like paper on fire."

"Why no s for two deer,/ but an s for two monkeys?/ ... Whoever invented English/ should be bitten/ by a snake."

When it is again Tet, in 1976, Mother predicts their lives "will twist and twist,/ intermingling the old and the new/ until it doesn't matter/ which is which."

Welcome to America.
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LibraryThing member francescadefreitas
I'm not sure now necessary the verse format was to this story, but it didn't detract from its power. A young girl and her family flee war in Vietnam and arrive in the United States. Months after reading it, the most powerful image that stays with me is that of the family trying to choke down the tasteless fast food chicken given to them as a treat.… (more)
LibraryThing member aconant05
This is a story about a young girl, Ha, from Vietnam. Her father has been killed in the war, and the Communists are taking over. She escapes to America with her mother and siblings. However, the move is not an easy one. She must learn a new language and a new culture. She can no longer eat her favorite food, papaya, from her papaya tree. Kids at school make fun of her, and she becomes very depressed. Luckily, she has a nice neighbor next door who was a former teacher and helps her to learn English and make friends. At the end of the book, the reader learns that many of the stories are drawn upon real ones experienced by the author, Thanhha Lai.

This book was written in verse which makes it flow nicely and read quickly. I believe this would be a powerful book for kids to read, because the theme of being an outsider is a common one. Whether it is an immigrant from another country or just a new kid in school, I believe this book will open eyes to the hardships and struggles that come along with coming to a new place.
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LibraryThing member candaceZ
Summary Inside Out And Back Again by Thanhha Lai. This is a book about a ten year old girl named Ha. Ha lives in Saigon. For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon. She loves the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by. She also loves the fact that she has her very own papaya tree. But when the Vietnam War has reaches 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, the strange shape of its landscape. But she also discovers the strength of her very own family.

Personal This is a very moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next. I like this book because it teaches children about change and that everybody has to experience change. It also teaches children that you will be ok with change.

Extension Idea This book is for middle school children.
Teachers could read this story when discussing the Vietnam war or talking about change.
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LibraryThing member BugsyBoog
This is a novel in verse about a girl named Ha, forced to leave Vietnam during the war with her family. Her father has been gone for years, and they are unsure if he will ever come back. They make a difficult decision to leave their country. Ha, her mother, and three brothers leave on a navy ship bound for America. There they deal with finding a sponsor and going to school/work with terrible racism against them.

There were some nice poems here, but it is very simplistic and dramatic. At least the verse makes it a quick read. The beauty of this story is its brevity, allowed by the short poetic form. This book would be a good read for kids who would like a good story of someone overcoming difficulties, as Ha does end up finding other adults and kids to trust and befriend. I just personally don’t enjoy novels in verse.
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LibraryThing member helenpeynado
Thanhha Lai tells a semi-autobiographical story of life in Vietnam with her mother and three brothers. As the Communist regime takes over South Vietnam, they are forced to flee on a navy ship to Alabama. Thanhha Lai's language is so simple and yet so evocative, readers can't help but laugh and be moved by the difficulties and discoveries her family experiences on this difficult journey. A gorgeous book in verse.… (more)
LibraryThing member delphica
This is a book I would have assiduously avoided as a child, because it's Poems about a Significant Social Topic, and seems like the kind of thing adults would always be pushing you to read.

So I approached it somewhat suspiciously. And I went into it thinking "how much story can there be, anyway?"

I was surprised by how much story got packed in. Told over a year from Tet to Tet, 10 year old Ha and her mother and brothers decide to leave Viet Nam, get out on the last boats, and resettle in Alabama.

I embraced Ha as a kindred spirit when she wrote

Mother smoothes back my hair,
knowing the pain
of a girl
who loves snacks
but is stranded
on a ship.

(I wonder if the author is a Betsy-Tacy?)

Each poem is dated at the bottom, although it's mostly easy enough to tell the time of year by the content. It broke my heart when the poem about missing her father was dated "every day."

Grade: A-
Recommended: It's a quick read, so to just about anyone interested in current children's fiction (even if you are also suspicious).
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LibraryThing member karenamorg
In her autobiographical book in verse, Thanhha Lai recounts the journey via a refugee-filled ship by ten-year-old Hà, a young Vietnamese girl, from 1975 Saigon to a Florida refugee camp and ultimately to the state of Alabama, where she and her family settle. Hà moves to the States with her mother and three brothers. She has a longing to reunite with her father, whom she barely knew, spurred on by her mother’s quiet suffering at his absence and deep concern for his fate. It is hoped that he is alive and the family presumes he is a prisoner of the Vietnamese Communists. The decision to flee to America and possibly lose contact forever with him is difficult but her mother feels that going to the States is the safest thing for herself and four children. The book covers this dramatic year in Hà’s life, and begins and ends on the Vietnamese holiday of Tet.

Winner of a 2012 Newbery Honor Award, Inside Out and Back Again’s non-rhyming verse is delivered in very short lines, and is deceptively simple. Lai packs a strong emotional punch within the text, and the reader understands the embarrassment, frustration and fury felt by Hà as she is teased and made to feel freakish and alone in her differentness by some of the students. The realities of a Vietnamese refugee being absorbed into the American landscape in 1976 is complex, as is evidenced in this passage about Hà’s relationship to Mrs. Washington, a lovely neighbor who tutors her and treats her with kindness and respect: “I had not known of her son Tom/or of his death as a/twenty-year old soldier/in the very place/where I was born. / I never thought/the name of my country/could sound so sad.” The story of alienation and cultural confusion is relatable to a variety of Americans, as well as to young people who have felt out of the mainstream in general. Inside Out and Back Again is a wonderful example of quality books in verse, and can be used to teach this emerging genre form and as well as social aspects of immigrating to a new country.

I recently bought this book for my school library, based on the strong reviews and Newbery Honor award. I suggested it to many students before reading it—and no one took me up on the suggestion, I think because it is in verse. After reading it, I have several 6th grade students in mind that I know will appreciate it and enjoy it. Target audience grades 5–8.
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LibraryThing member AMQS
This book was simply wonderful. Told in spare narrative poetry, 10 year-old Ha describes her life in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War in simple, beautiful words. The anticipation of papaya fruit from her very own tree; her mother's sad eyes and knotted brow as she honors her husband missing in action for nine years and struggles to feed her four children; the agonizing decision: how can we abandon our country and flee like dogs? Part two of the book, describing terror and squalor and hardship is called At Sea. Part three is called Alabama, after the bewildering and at times hostile state where the family makes their home after arriving in the US. I read the book with a lump in my throat, particularly as the book is semi-autobiographical. I think this is such an important book for children and adults to read, and could help readers understand the plight of the world's many refugees. The book is definitely deserving of the National Book Award it won in 2011, and I highly recommend it.… (more)
LibraryThing member jfoster_sf
Story of a girl who escapes with her family from a war zone in Saigon to live as refugees in Alabama. Great book.
LibraryThing member EuronerdLibrarian
Each poem of this is like a moment, a snapshot, a taste, a feeling. Lai very effectively brings to life the little things--the difficulty of adjusting to new food, language barriers and difficulties, etc. It's absolutely lovely.
LibraryThing member alebarbu
Hà is ten years old, loves snacks and papayas, and does not want to be treated differently because she is a girl. Hà lives in Saigon with her mother and three older brothers, and it is spring 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War. Times are tough: bombs are falling ever closer to the city, goods and food are very expensive, school ends early, and Hà’s father has gone missing nine years prior in a navy mission. Finally, Hà’s mother and older brothers decide the family must flee the country to escape the impending Communist rule. They flee by boat, and the very next day, April 30, Saigon falls to the Communists. After spending a month on a boat, and two more months in tent refugee camps in Guam and then Florida, the family finally gets a sponsor who takes them to Alabama. They arrive August 15, and have to learn to adapt to a new culture, new surroundings, new language, and new food in an unfriendly neighborhood and in schools where bullies loom. Will Hà succeed in finding a new home in the United States?

This book (based on the author’s personal experience) offers a moving depiction of the plight of ten-year-old refugee Hà. Through the free-verse poems, the author depicts by little touches the daily life of Hà in Vietnam, the consequences of the war on people, the coldness of some neighbors in Alabama, but also the kindness of two teachers, and the strength and warmth of her family. This book feels like a very honest and accurate portrayal of what it must be like to be forced to flee from a country at war, and have to resettle in a foreign (literally and figuratively) country. Even though it depicts a time and a war that elementary school students probably have not heard of yet, I think they can identify to the story because of the age of the main character. I would recommend this book for grades 4 and up.
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LibraryThing member KimJD
Such a beautiful story, based on the author's own experiences of her move from Vietnam to Alabama when she was 10.
An example of America as seen through Kim Ha's newly-arrived eyes:

Out the Too-High Window

Green mats of grass
in front of every house.

Vast windows
in front of sealed curtains.

Cement lanes where
no one walks.

Big cars
pass not often.

Not a noise.

Clean, quiet
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LibraryThing member rgruberexcel
RGG: Narrated in verse by a young girl, this is a story of a vietnamese family's immigration to the United States, and the difficulty of assimilating. Very heart-felt. Reading Level: 10-14.




(791 ratings; 4.4)
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