This is actually the first book I have read that is written completely in verse. I wasn’t sure if I would like the format, believing that there couldn’t be as much detail to draw me into the story. I was wonderfully wrong. This amazing story spans one year in the life of 10-year-old Ha and is drawn from the author’s own experience leaving Saigon during the Vietnam war and landing in Alabama. Along with her mother and three brothers, Ha must flee her home and everything she knows. They spend a long journey on a boat with little food, no bathrooms and two mats to share among the five of them. Eventually they secure a sponsor in Alabama and Ha must learn to navigate her way in a new world. There is so much to love about this book. Ha is a spunky little girl who in the first two pages is angered by the cultural tradition of only allowing male feet to be the first to walk through their house after the new year so she makes sure to awaken extra early and sneaks just her big toe out of the bed she shares with her mother and presses it to the floor. The friendship that develops between Ha and her neighbor, a retired teacher who tutors the family and welcomes them with open arms is touching while the prejudice they face from others is painful. This is the first (hopefully not the last) book written by Thanhha Lai and the winner of the 2011 National Book award. It is recommended for grades 4 through 8 and I think would make a wonderful read aloud due to the richness of topics and feelings to be discussed.
Title: Inside out and back again
Author: Thanhha Lai