Thursday, June 20, 2013

Middle Grade Review: Inside Out and Back Again

Yes friends, it's that time again!
Inside Out and Back Again




Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai
Publisher: Harper, 2011,  262 pp.
Source: library


Brief Summary:
Ten-year-old Ha lives in Saigon in the last days of the Vietnam war.  Her father is missing, and the war is getting closer all the time.  When the city falls, they flee with many others, and eventually come to America, and settle in Alabama, where they must learn a completely new culture and language, in a place where people who don't look like everyone else are definitely not appreciated.  The most telling indication of how hard it is there is Ha's own statement:
No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon over
peacetime in Alabama

Review:
Inside Out & Back Again is told in a spare, first-person verse style that is, for me, both moving and frustrating.  Moving, because it is very well done, and it's a hard story to hear without feeling.  Frustrating, because the verse form leaves so much unsaid.  This is my standard reaction to books in verse, and is not necessarily a bad thing.

The story itself is well told, unfolds convincingly (as it ought, given that according to the notes at the back it is in many ways the story of the author's own journey to America), and takes us far enough to be satisfied with the direction Ha's life will be able to take.  The writing is excellent.

Because the verse form is so sparing of words, the 262 pages is actually a great deal less, and it took me only about two hours to read this book.  That makes it in fact something about midway between a short story and a novel, which also explains the feeling that much is left out of the story.  I compare this to many of the works of Karen Hesse, who also writes in a spare poetic form, and also manages to not only convey the emotions powerfully but to carry the story well.  Unless you hate the verse form on general principles, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.

4.5 stars (just a hair off for the lingering desire to know more. . . or is that just me?)

Full FTC Disclosure: I checked out this copy of Inside Out & Back Again from my library, and received nothing whatsoever from the author or publisher in exchange for my honest review.  The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.


*************************************

Are you a hiker who now has children and wonders what next?  Check out some of the places we took ours when they were little, and show your child what backpacking is about.

10 comments:

  1. This sounds like something I would enjoy. Thank you for the review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Take a look. It's a quick read if you gobble it up for the story (as I am wont to do) but would reward a slower consideration as poetry, I suspect.

      Delete
  2. I loved, loved, loved this one! Thanks for the thoughtful review. Love your blog (visiting from the Kidlit Blog Hop).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Found you via Kid Lit Blog Hop and enjoyed this review! I just read this a few months ago and really did enjoy it. However, I know what you mean about the sparse nature in which it's written - I wanted more detail and info. too. Though, I can see young readers liking the simplicity.

    Brittany at Tales of a Bookworm

    ReplyDelete
  4. As a high school teacher in a multi-cultural school, I totally understand Ha's words:

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

    Thanks so much for sharing with the Kid Lit Blog Hop. Cheryl, Hop Hostess

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for coming by, Cheryl. Yeah, I suspect many immigrants feel that way at least at first. I spent a winter in France long ago, and my French was pretty basic. I was just exhausted all the time by trying to understand what was being said. And I wasn't dealing with a radically different culture (though more different than you might think).

      Delete
  5. Thanks for a great review of this book. I'm not sure I've read such a lengthy book written in verse. I'm not sure how I would do with that. Maybe we are so used to being explained everything in the middle grade books we typically read, leaving much less room to reflect on what we are reading or to fill in those gaps ourselves? It's certainly a unique way to tell a story. I'm very curious about it. Thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop once again Rebecca! :)

    ReplyDelete

We want to hear from you! Tell us your reactions, or whatever's on your mind.