Based on Lai’s experiences as a 10-year-old girl growing up at the end of the Vietnam War, Hà and her family are forced to leave behind their beloved country full of markets and papaya trees. Heading out on a dangerous sea journey with an uncertain fate, the family is rescued by an American ship. They decide to start over in the United States and are adopted by a generous sponsor in Alabama. Many of the residents of Alabama are less than welcoming, and in diary-like entries written in broken English and verse, Hà chronicles the trials and tribulations of adjusting to America.
A slightly heartbreaking story of loss, bullying, family, and adapting, Lai successfully captures and brings to life her own story in this award-winning, historical fiction piece. A Newbery Honor Book and National Book Award Winner for eight to twelve year olds, Inside Out and Back Again is touching and raw. Like Best Man, the vocabulary is simple as Hà learns to speak English, but the subject matter is much more mature. Jacqueline Woodson writes Brown Girl Dreaming similarly, and although both novels capture different cultures and events in history, I would highly recommend both.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai (HarperCollins, 2011)