Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Novel: Inside Out & Back Again

Author: Thanhha Lai

Target Audience: 8 and up

Genre: Historical fiction; novel-in-verse

Publication Year: 2011

Setting: primarily Saigon, South Vietnam and Alabama; 1975


A Favorite Quote:

“I understand

and wish

I could go back

to not understanding.”

My One Sentence Summary: Unexpected pleasures, unanticipated kindnesses, and untold heartbreak characterize ten-year-old Hà’s experience as she and her family flee Saigon in the final days of the Vietnam War and come to the United States.

What I loved about this book: This is a beautiful story, based largely on the author’s own experience of leaving Vietnam and settling in Alabama with her family. Perhaps this is how Thanhha Lai appears to so effortlessly capture beautiful poignant images of papayas and bougainvilleas and the scent of jasmine…but even more than the beautiful imagery, she captures the emotional turmoil of a child whose father is missing in action, whose family has had to flee their home, who is smart and good at school but feels dumb when she must start over in a new school and with a new language.

Themes: Resilience after terrible losses; compassion for the suffering of others

Who should read this book: Who shouldn’t? I think this is a valuable read for all ages, genders, and perspectives—it’s the kind of book that helps readers find compassion and understanding for others. Slightly older children and readers with a basic grasp of the issues surrounding the Vietnam War are likely to understand and appreciate this novel more thoroughly than those who have not yet studied this time period in history.