Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai


Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out and Back Again. Harper Collins, 2011. $ 15.99, 272 pages.

Link to Author’s Website:

Links to Interviews with Author:

Links to Reviews Available Online:

Reader’s Annotation:

Ha and her family escape war torn Vietnam and must find a way to fit in to their new home across the world.


With three older brothers, a papaya tree she has grown from a seed, and plenty of friends, Ha is happy with life as she knows it in Vietnam.   But at the beginning of the new year when the fortune teller tells her mother that the family’s life is about to be twisted inside out, Ha has no way of knowing just how different life is going to be.  As things worsen with the war, Ha’s family is offered a chance to get out of the country.  Soon, Ha finds herself leaving everything that is familiar and being stuck at sea for a month with not enough food or water, battling sea sickness and homesickness, and faced with the decision of where the family would end up.  After spending time at a refugee camp, Ha and her family finally make their new home in Alabama.  However, Ha struggles with the language, bullying, loneliness, strange new foods, and longing for all that is familiar.  Through the love and support of her family, kind neighbors, and her own strength, Ha slowly starts to assimilate and make a new life where they now find themselves.


Thanhha Lai’s beautifully written Inside Out and Back Again tells the immigrant story from yet another perspective.  Written in verse, the rhythm and figurative language paint a vivid picture of a plucky young girl uprooted from the only home she knew and transplanted in a foreign, and often hostile, new land.  Ha’s character is likeable because of her spirit.  She often questions things and perseveres through whatever hardships her family is faced with.  As a ten year old, Ha is not overemotional, and instead deals with each new thing as it happens, often taking it at its most simplistic level.  Because of Ha’s use of Vietnamese words, some of the language is more complex and maybe harder to access for some readers.  Similarly, the verse style may also pose difficulties for other readers.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity:1 – Would sit on shelves unread; 2 – May see the light of day as an assigned reading; 3 – Interesting to readers, may need marketing; 4 – Very appealing read, ; 5 – Need multiple copies, because it would always be checked out!
  • Quality: 1 – How was this book ever published?; 2 – Poor literary quality; 3 – Average literary quality, nothing stands out as exceptional; 4 – Overall high quality literary quality, with certain areas of exceptional literary quality; 5 – Well-crafted of the highest literary quality
  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre:  realistic fiction, historical fiction, poetry

Appeal Factors:  verse style, vivid descriptions, immigrant experience, family relationships

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Wild Girl by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • All the Broken Pieces by Ann E. Burg
  • Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate

Awards Won and Book lists:

  •  2011 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature
  • Newbery Honor Book

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Leaving Saigon watching the bombing
  • Daily life on the navy ship
  • Ha’s impression of America

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • Why does Ha say that she would choose wartime Saigon over peacetime Alabama?
  • How does Ha’s family help her assimilate to their new life?
  • How would the story change if it were written as a narrative?  How does the verse style add to the overall story?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this novel because of the way it was written.  I enjoyed the verse style and then the character of Ha pulled me in.  She was brave and spunky and rose to met all the challenges that she and her family faced.  Her story was also appealing because it told the immigrant story from a Vietnamese immigrant’s point of view, which I was not as familiar with.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s