2011 National Book Award Winner: Young People's Literature 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. Inspired by the author's own childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam as a refugee and immigrating to Alabama, this tween novel told in verse is sure to capture young readers' hearts and open their eyes.
- ISBN-13: 9780061962783
- ISBN-10: 0061962783
- Publisher: HarperCollins
- Publish Date: February 2011
- Dimensions: 8.45 x 5.9 x 0.97 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.79 pounds
- Page Count: 272
- Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Finding a home in America
Inside Out and Back Again, an autobiographical novel written in verse, captures one year in the life of 10-year-old Kim Hà. Her unforgettable story begins and ends with Tét, the first day of the Vietnamese lunar calendar. It’s February 1975 and Saigon is about to fall.
Hà flees Vietnam with her mother and two brothers, boarding a ship in a nearby port. One poignant poem lists some of what they must leave behind: “Ten gold-rimmed glasses . . . Brother Quant’s report cards . . . Vines of jasmine.” After weeks at sea and a stay in a refugee camp on Guam, Hà’s family ends up in Alabama, where a sponsor is found.
Holding tight to the 10-year-old point of view, first-time author Thanhha Lai draws on memories of her own childhood, when her family fled Vietnam after the war and moved to Alabama. The reader will smell the incense, long for the taste of fresh papaya and feel the rocking of the ship. The difficulty of learning English, coupled with Hà’s desire for perfection, makes assimilation nearly impossible, especially when some of the kids in her class cruelly tease her about her hair, her accent and the flatness of her face. She grows up, tries to learn the art of making do from her mother, and leans on her brothers and her tutor, Mrs. Washington. And she learns to fly-kick like Bruce Lee.
Lai’s spare poetry, full of emotion and infused with humor, is accessible to young children and adults alike. This moving and beautifully told story is a must-read for anyone who works with children new to the country.