Thursday, January 26, 2012

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

I'm on top of things this year -- with only three new Newbery books to read, I should be able to tackle them fairly quickly!

My first read of the three is Newbery honor book and National Book Award winner Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, a somewhat autobiographical verse novel about a ten-year-old Vietnamese girl.

It's 1975, and Hà lives in Saigon with her mother and brothers. Money is tight, but she is happy with her life there. The impending threat from the Communist regime, however, makes her mother uneasy. Should the family stay, or should they try to make their way out of Vietnam to France, Canada, or America? Eventually, Hà and her family find places on a boat leaving Vietnam on April 29th, the day before the Fall of Saigon. After a difficult voyage and a period of adjustment in a refugee camp, Hà's family is sponsored by a man from Alabama. How will Hà and her family adjust to life in a new country, where the language is strange and difficult and not all of the citizens are welcoming?

As with any verse novel, this is a fast read, even with taking time to savor a poetic thought here and there. However, even in this spare, bare-bones format, Hà's personality shines through. She's a little bit spunky, a little bit stubborn, and reminds me a lot of another Newbery Honor-winning heroine -- Ramona Quimby. Hà's struggles with schoolwork, brothers, and schoolyard bullies will resonate with readers, even those who have little knowledge of the politics surrounding the Vietnam War.

So, is this charming book deserving of the honors it has received? Yes, definitely.

(Review copy borrowed through my library system.)

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