Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai is a book that I cannot even imagine saying enough about. Anne from My Head is Full of Books reminded me the other night, while I read her review, that this book has been lingering on a pile in my home for far too long. Fortunately, this is a quick read, because her review had me digging through my piles and I started reading immediately.
Ha and her family live in Vietnam, enduring the war. She is able to see the beauty of her people and her country, once remarking,
"No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama."
However, Ha and her family relocate to Alabama where she is made fun of by classmates, as she struggles to learn the customs of American life. And while life is a struggle, there are some joys that Ha finds in her new home: a kind teacher, some caring classmates, and people who are willing to help them begin a new life.
Inside Out and Back Again recently won the National Book Award, a fitting honor for this powerful book. Although spare in text (the entire novel is written in verse), there is so much packed in to each page. I could see many of my own students in Ha's character, as they try to find their way in an unfamiliar setting. Lai includes information about herself at book's end, indicating that this story is somewhat autobiographical; my heart aches for Lai and her own assimilation into American life.
I will be pressing this book into many hands in the future. This is an amazing novel, a real gem!