“Ha is ten when war comes to her home. She and her family leave Saigon on the last ship fleeing the city. Even after they land in the U.S. Ha, her mother and brothers still feel adrift in a new and often hostile culture.
Inside Out and Back Again addresses war (in Vietnam), immigration, racism, bullying and family with simple verse. In each poem, Ha tells about her day, what went wrong and what went right. She talks about what it's like to learn a new language and what it's like to leave one's home not by choice but by necessity.
One feature that stood out for me was how simple cultural misunderstandings were dealt with by various characters. Some were willing to laugh and learn together while other characters let prejudice fuel cruel actions and prevent learning. Another interesting character interaction (or lack thereof) was between Ha and her teacher who seemed completely unequipped and uninterested in learning about Ha's situation and how best to help her feel comfortable and to learn.
Lai's book of free verse is told narratively, like a story, from Ha's perspective. So, don't let the poetry factor get in your way of reading this significant story which, Lai tells us at the end, is partially based off her personal experience. I tend to be critical of issue-oriented fiction and Inside and Back Again certainly is such a book; yet, I enjoyed it for it's rich description of setting and emotion and for the plain fact that it had a good story to tell.”
Chelle wrote this review Saturday, March 24, 2012.