Monday, January 30, 2012

Review of Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Inside Out and Back Again
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.

Ever since I picked up What My Mother Doesn’t Know in middle school, I’ve had a soft spot for novels in verse. If you tell me about a novel in verse that has gotten rave reviews and has won a major award, such as Inside Out and Back Again, chances are that I am going to pick it up. Although I think that Lai has a talent for creating atmosphere and depicting genuine emotion, this novel did not stick with me.

The book is divided into parts, and I never felt as though I was given too few details to understand the story. In terms of plot and characters, I felt that Lai did an excellent job of creating characters that were distinctive. I think Ha’s mother was one of the most realistic characters in the story for me because I could understand why she felt and acted the way she did. However, there were times when it felt as though Lai was so focused on her other characters that Ha’s development got neglected.

You wouldn’t know it from my blog, but I’m a big fan of reading poetry, so I like novels in verse. It’s a form that lends itself well to contemporary novels (which Inside Out & Back Again is not) because it allows for luscious descriptions of environments and characters but also works well for those moments where tons of emotion is packed into a few short words. And this book is full of all of those things. Objectively, I found Lai’s writing beautiful but subjectively, it didn’t leave a lasting impression and I’m not sure. Not being able to figure out why I didn’t like this book bothers me, because I like to discuss books intelligently and give solid reasoning behind my feelings.

While I can see why some readers will connect with Inside Out and Back Again, that didn’t totally happen for me. Even though I enjoyed my experience reading at the time, I felt unsure of what I had to say or what I really remembered when I sat down to write this review. Regardless, I think Inside Out & Back Again offers a fresh perspective on style on the topic of Vietnam, and is worth taking the time to read.

Disclosure: I purchased a copy of this book.


  1. I need to read this book. It's won so many awards this award season that it obviously has something going for it. I've gotten to like novels in verse more so hopefully I'll enjoy this one too.

  2. I agree-novels in verse do have so much potential to portray killer description and emotion.



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