Rating: 5 stars
Written in prose, Inside Out & Back Again is the story of 10-year-old Kim Ha, who escapes Saigon during the Vietnam War and moves with her mother and her three brothers to Alabama. Ha poignantly describes a war-time Saigon - her home, filled with family, photographs and plenty of papaya - and a peace-time Alabama, where she is bullied by her American classmates just for being Vietnamese.
I'm not typically a fan of poetry and prose, but I found myself sucked into this almost immediately. The sights, smells, tastes, and colors of Saigon are vibrantly brought to life by this innocent and matter-of-fact 10 year old. And then to juxtapose that war torn city with Alabama - a place that is relatively safe yet strange and unwelcoming... it was so incredibly beautiful.
One of my favorite passages is from the Alabama section of the novel, in which Ha is trying to ask their American sponsor, whom she refers to as "Cowboy", if he has a horse:
"To make it worse,
the cowboy explains
horses here go
neigh, neigh, neigh,
not hee, hee, hee.
No they don't.
Where am I?"It's so simple, that passage - but speaks volumes. And that is what Thanhha Lai is able to do throughout this wonderful book.
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