Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

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Last night I sat down and read Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai. The novel – written in free verse – won the National Book Award and was named a 2012 Newbery Honor Book. My plan was to read half of it last night and the other half today. Instead, I read it straight through. Lai’s moving, and often very funny, story is about 10-year-old Ha who, along with her mother and brothers, is forced to leave her home in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam War. After a short stay in Guam, her family eventually settles in Alabama. An author’s note at the end explains that the story is based on the author’s own experience which explains the books immediacy and emotional honesty.

Some of the scenes are heartbreaking, for example when Ha describes her feelings at her new school and says she wants to “feel invisible until I can talk back.” But there are other moments that reminded me to pay closer attention to new students, regardless of where they come from. “On one side of the bright, noisy room, light skin,” Ha says about her new school cafeteria, “Other side, dark skin. Both laughing, chewing, as if it never occurred to them someone medium would show up.”

I’ve already added Inside Out & Back Again to the summer reading list, but plan to recommend it to a few students between now and then.  It’s a powerful and deeply affecting book.

On a completely different note…there’s a good article in today’s New York Times about Madeleine L’Engle’s classic novel, A Wrinkle in Time.


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