Middle Grade Monday: Inside Out & Back Again

This week's Middle Grade Monday will be on the book Inside Out & Back Again about a Vietnamese family immigrating to the U.S. on a boat. Honestly, this is more of me fangirling about finding a book about a Vietnamese girl. The summary of the book tells it all. Nothing that I say will be meaningful for this book. I'm going to let it's own words speak for the book.

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Published: February 22nd 2011 by HarperCollins
Source: Library
Format: Paperback
Rating: 4 out of 5

Inside Out and Back Again is a New York Times bestseller, a Newbery Honor Book, and a winner of the National Book Award! Inspired by the author's childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child's-eye view of family and immigration.

For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. 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 . . . and the strength of her very own family.

I am lucky to have found this book at the library. I picked it up because of the cover but stayed because of so much more. I was excited to have found a book about a Vietnamese family fleeing the country to escape the war. This is my family's story. However, my parents never like to talk about their experience and I hoped that this book would help me understand our history.
The emotional aspect is important because of something I noticed in my nieces and nephews. They may know in general where their parents came from, but they can't really imagine the noises and smells of Vietnam, the daily challenges of starting over in a strange land. -From the Author's Note
The book is a historical fiction story that educates it's readers on the hardship of the refugees to teach compassion. I think that it is great to have a middle grade book on this topic, because it gives children the opportunity to turn to a book when they want to get a deeper understanding of their homes and family. I couldn't stop paying attention to this book. The book did the purpose I hoped for and after reading I felt more grateful of my family.
Everybody knows the ship
could sink
unable to hold
the piles of bodies
that keep
crawling on
like raging ants
from a disrupted nest.

But no one
is heartless enough
to say
because what if
they had been
before their turn?
Lai writes the book in verse, which I'm usually not a fan of, but it worked well here. It allowed her to put emphasis on words and fully showed the frustration of Hà in the U.S. I'm amazed at how much emotion the author was able to fit into minimal words. The broken language even further emphasized Hà's struggles as she learned English and placed me in her shoes.
I count up to twenty.
The class claps
on its own.

I'm furious,
unable to explain
I already learned
and how to purify
river water.

So this is
what dumb
feels like.

I hate, hate, hate it.
Inside Out & Back Again is obviously more easy to read than a Wikipedia page and much more tolerable than a history class. I learned so much in an enjoyable form. There's a reason why diversity in books are important, especially access to it to children. I never knew how many Vietnamese books I lacked in my life until I felt like crying when I read Vietnamese words and names. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the Vietnamese culture and the story of the refugees.

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