Monday, November 21, 2011
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai... It's a memoir... but not exactly. It's a children's book, and it did win the National Book Award for YA Lit this year, but it's more than that. Inside Out & Back Again is a verse book, or a book totally written in short verses, but not a book of poetry. What is Inside Out & Back Again exactly then? It's a poignant look at a young child's life as she is being thrown into a new life unexpectedly and how she deals with it all. It's an immigrant's story, but the perspective we see is from the voice of an intelligent 10-year-old girl, who has a little spunk behind her, and who simply tells us in unfaltering prose what it's like to lose your best friend, dream, be torn from all you know and ultimately be the outsider. The last time I read a book that was in complete verse (Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow) I didn't like the medium at all. But this is a different story, and Thanhha Lai measures her words more carefully like a delicate brushstroke at times, almost like Haiku.
The life of Ha is based on the life of author Thanhha Lai, who moved to Alabama at the end of the Vietnam War. And so, though this isn't really a memoir, it really is. Here's what's on the front jacket flap...
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.
For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.
This is the moving story of one girl's year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
The story is moving, and wonderfully written. A sweet story for any young girl at heart, but also a story of the hopes, dreams and reality of immigration.