Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai;
HarperCollins Children’s Books: New
York, 2011; $16.99
Last year, my family and I moved from Florida to West Virginia and it was a disaster. The movers came late, our kayak fell off our car roof while my parents were driving down a highway at about two o’clock in the morning, and we moved into our new house late so for twelve days we had to roam around staying in the houses of friends and family. My family’s move was bad but it was nowhere near as awful as Ha and her family’s move from Saigon, Vietnam, to Alabama in 1975, a story told in this thrilling and fascinating book.
Ha and her family (her mom and three brothers; her father was missing in action) had to flee from Saigon during the Vietnam War because Saigon was being captured by the North Vietnamese Army. All Ha had ever known was Saigon. It was a very rough long trip but finally they made it. All of the people that had escaped Vietnam had to stay in “tent cities,” and in order for them to leave they had to be sponsored by a person to move somewhere. Ha’s family was sponsored to move to Alabama by a man Ha calls “our cowboy” because of his hat and appearance. Their sponsor worked hard to help them adjust to life in Alabama, but their neighbors were not friendly except for one helpful lady.
Ha’s story includes adventure and suspense but also sadness. As a reader, I was worried when they were on the ship escaping Vietnam because they ran out of food. Once in America, her family faced a great of deal of hardship because they had little money. When Ha arrived in the U.S. she spoke only a few words of English. She couldn’t understand what the children who made fun of her at school said. Her oldest brother, Quang, spoke more English than the rest of them and had studied engineering in Vietnam. His skills were what attracted their sponsor in the first place.
Ha was grateful for the home they moved into but she preferred the style and design of her Saigon home. At one point she writes that life in America was so hard that she almost preferred living in war in Saigon to being in Alabama. But over time, Ha made friends, settled in more at school, and started to learn English. It took me a little while to adjust to my new home. I started school and soon I made new friends. I think that all that is necessary to make new friends and adjust is time and having a good attitude.
Ha’s story taught me about the war in Vietnam and about the difficulties of changing to a whole new life. The story is written in stanzas that are like poems. They are also like journal entries because they move chronologically forward and describe different parts of her life. They cover the span of one year—1975 (the year of the Cat). The story includes fabulous details that make it even more interesting. I found the story gripping and couldn’t put the book down. The author—Thanhha Lai—was born in Vietnam and moved to Alabama at the end of the war. Much of what happened to Ha in the book was based on memories of Lai’s childhood. I felt sorry for the hardships in Ha’s life but I’m certainly glad that the author turned them into a book.