Reviewed by Kristina Miranda
Chatted by Michelle Delisle, Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Kristina Miranda
Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai, is a beautifully written, middle grade novel in verse. This Newbery Honor and National Book Award winner is the story of ten year-old Hà and her journey from life in Saigon during the Vietnam War to her experience as a new immigrant in the United States. Despite the war closing in, and her father missing in action since before Hà can remember, Saigon is still home. The place where her beloved papaya tree grows, and her mother and three older brothers do their best to maintain Vietnamese traditions as they wait for word of their father. As Saigon falls, the family has no choice but to flee on a ship headed for safety. Without much more than the clothes on their back, they eventually arrive in Alabama and experience complete culture shock. Hà faces her new reality—the food, the language, the cruelty and kindness of strangers—with bravery and spunk. With breathtaking prose, Lai expertly immerses the reader in Hà’s emotional journey. From start to finish, every word is to be savored.
Kerry: WRN'ers, we've got a guest chatter today. You've read her articles on our website before and she's sorta a full-fledged WRN girl anyway. Welcome Kristina Miranda.
michelle: yay, so excited kris is here!!!!!
Kristina: Thanks for letting me chat with you today about this awesome book!
Kerry: We're gonna get you an official WRN badge soon enough.
Kristina: I'll wear it proudly!
Kerry: Girls, did you just love this book?
Kristina: I fell head over heels in just the first few pages. I love it!
michelle: absolutely -- one of the best things i've read in a long time
Kerry: Same. Not only for the story itself and the cover, but I was blown away at her ability to tell a complete story in so few words.
Kerry: I've never even read a book in verse before this. Felt weird at first, but then…beautiful!
Kristina: The language was so beautiful, her choice of words. It was the first time I'd read a book in verse, too.
michelle: it reminds me of aleutian sparrow by karen hesse ...another favorite
Kerry: Never read that, M, but will check it out.
michelle: one thing about verse -- and the language, like Kris was saying
michelle: it's from the heart and it really conveys sorrow so perfectly
Kerry: Seriously, how do they decide what goes on what line and when to break??? That’s an art in itself.
Kristina: The language was so precise. Every word meant something.
Kristina: It has a rhythm. The breaks were perfect.
Kerry: Her word choices are what I noticed too. Gorg!
michelle: wouldn't the break be voice inflection?
Kristina: Me, too M. It was like I was reading her thoughts.
michelle: makes me want to write a book in verse!
michelle: or at least try it
Kerry: I think you should try it, M!!
michelle: ha -- will try it sometime
Kristina: I used to write a lot of poetry when I was a kid
Kerry: I did too, Kris. But it wasn't very good. lol
Kerry: Mine was rhyming poetry. I've learned a lot since then.
Kristina: I won a contest for mine in sixth grade lol
michelle: i have one free verse poem i wrote a couple years ago.
Kerry: So cool. We'll have to post both of yours!
michelle: noooooooo, not mine...we can post Kris'
Kristina: I still have it!
Kerry: I'd love to read it.
michelle: i want to read it!
Kristina: I'll let you read it! But I prefer we don't post it. lol
michelle: weren't there just so many parts in this book that broke your heart?
Kerry: For sure.
Kristina: Yes. I felt like I was Ha as I read it. I could feel her pain.
Kerry: But Ha's, the MC, take on it was so heartwarming. Even with the pink boy who was a bully.
michelle: she was very spunky through hard times
Kerry: Yes, and I still wanted to reach through the pages and hug her though.
Kristina: I loved the insight into the Vietnamese culture, how she saw things when she arrived in the U.S.
michelle: me too, Ker and Kris
Kerry: And the fact that as hard as things were in Vietnam at the time, she preferred it over peace time in the U.S.
Kerry: It's who she was.
Kristina: Yes, that really got me, too, that no matter how bad things were, she loved home.
Kerry: It was home.
michelle: it was home and everything here was so different
Kerry: jinx both of you
Kristina: It was interesting to see her point of view on the food, on school.
michelle: it was wonderful when miss washington gave her the photo album from her son!
Kristina: I loved that part, too, M.
Kerry: Thank goodness for Miss Washington.
michelle: especially compared to the pictures from vietnam that her teacher had shown at school
Kristina: Miss Washington was a fabulous character.
michelle: i <3 miss washington
Kristina: Me, too!
Kerry: She made Ha feel okay just as she was. I was upset by the rest of the town that wouldn't accept Ha's family until they agreed to be baptized in a church that meant nothing to them.
michelle: so sad
Kristina: I know. I really felt for them.
michelle: you know the picture the teacher showed...is really famous, right?
michelle: but definitely not what Ha would want to see!
Kerry: Awful and mean-spirited to show that.
Kristina: Yes, that's another thing I love about this book, it is like living that part of history in real time.
Kerry: As you all know by now...historical fiction = my fave genre! Lots of sadness, yet triumphs in them too.
michelle: What did you guys think was the saddest part?
Kerry: This may sound shallow bc there were some bigger issues, but I was heartbroken over the brother's chick that died. For me, it was all about the hope.
Kerry: Then it was gone
michelle: me too. broke my heart
Kristina: There were a lot of sad parts, maybe the saddest was about their father near the end.
Kerry: Yeah, Kris, I get that. But part of me thinks deep down they always knew.
Kristina: You're right.
michelle: and another sad part was when she's with miss washington and she tells her I eat lunch in bathroom and then corrects it by adding "the"
Kerry: The whole papaya tree pulled at my heart, too.
michelle: the papaya tree...i loved the dried papaya!!!!!!!!!!!
Kristina: I thought it was sad when the oldest brother went to work on cars even though he was such an excellent student and wanted to go to college.
michelle: yes, definitely
michelle: both of those
Kristina: When Ha missed "being smart" in school because she couldn't speak English.
michelle: hard, right?
Kerry: Yeah, it was full of sad moments. But it was never weighted down in pity. So awesome that the author could walk that fine line perfectly.
michelle: so true, Ker
Kristina: I agree, Ker. It was expertly done.
Kerry: Because overall, I didn't feel sad at the end of it. I loved it. Because it was honest and filled with good too.
michelle: i thought the end was hopeful too
Kristina: I was so immersed in her character that when I finished the last page I had to take some time to merge back into the real world.
michelle: wow, Kris
Kerry: Agreed, Kris.
Kristina: I'll never forget her first time in the lunch room when one side was light skinned and the other side dark skinned, and she didn't know where medium should go. : (
michelle: i know. so glad that's changed
Kerry: Yes, see. So, so great.
Kristina: I think we get so used to our own culture that it takes a book like this to open or eyes to another view point.
michelle: i love when she plucked the golden hair from the arm of the soldier
Kristina: And when she was so amazed to see "hair like flames" growing out of a man's face.
michelle: and the part about the fish sauce was funny
michelle: when she put it on everything.
Kristina: I know! The food was terrible for them without the fish sauce!
Kerry: And without the papaya.
michelle: i know. it's so easy for us to get papaya...i wonder about the rest of the u.s. today
Kristina: It was great to see how they adapted slowly and were able to regain some of their foods and culture as time went on.
Kerry: Yeah, and it's great to see those little things that mattered to them.
Kerry: Those little parts that make us who we are.
michelle: exactly. it also reminded me a little bit of the red umbrella, by christina gonzalez.
Kerry: Yes, me too, M.
Kerry: I'd love to see this book hit the school market. The former history teacher in me would require this for my students.
michelle: agreed. an excellent book for schools
Kristina: Children and adults should read it!
Kristina: That's why books like this are so important. A window into another culture.
Kristina: …into another’s soul.
Kerry: Well, girls. I think we'll end on that note because the note was so great!
Kerry: Until next time...
Kerry: Kris, thanks for joining us. We sure hope you'll do this again.
michelle: will you?
Kerry: Pretty please with chocolate sauce on top?
Kristina: It was fun chatting with you! I'd do it again anytime!: )
michelle: yay! jinx!
Kristina: You're making me laugh!
Kerry: Oh, missed that jinx. I was in slacker mode.
Kerry: Okay, girls. Kerry --> out!
michelle: bye for real
Kristina: bye--thanks! : )