Friday, December 30, 2011

Inside Out & Back Again

Book talk: Ha's mother says that it's luckier for a boy to be the first one to walk around the house on New Year's day so that honor always goes to one of her brothers, but she can't resist secretly waking up just after midnight to touch one toe to the ground.  Perhaps she shouldn't have, because this year everything seems to have gone wrong.  The war is spreading and Ha's family is fleeing to America for safety. Ha was happy with her family in Vietnam but now everything seems inside-out.  She wonders if things will ever go back to the way they were again or if her family will be cursed forever.

Rocks in my socks: The entire novel is written in verse that is sparse and beautiful, and yet conveys so much.  The plot moves along and the reader gets to know Ha and everyone around her through her poems.  Many of her experiences will be new to readers who do not know much about Vietnam, but at the same time there are plenty of familiar situations for readers to relate to, like the way her brothers twist her name around to tease her or some of her birthday wishes: "Wish I could lose my chubby cheeks./Wish I could stay calm/ no matter what/ my brothers say./ Wish Mother would stop/ chiding me to stay calm,/ which makes it worse."  Each poem has a clear subject and could stand on its own, but together they form a bigger picture.  For example, she writes a poem about her mother making shoulder bags to describe their decision to leave Vietnam.  I also loved her takes on learning English, described in a series of poems where she talks about adding 's's to make plurals and concludes that "Whoever invented/ English/ must have loved/ snakes."  A bit further into her English education she echoes a thought I'm sure anyone who has ever had to learn English can sympathize with: "Whoever invented English/ should be bitten/ by a snake."  I love the perspective that this book brings to Americans.  At one point she learns that a friend of hers had a son who died in Vietnam.  She writes "I never thought/ the name of my country/ could sound so sad."  The novel is semi-autobiographical so naturally it felt very authentic, not just in the details, but in the emotions that were captured so perfectly by the poems.  Above all I loved the spunky protagonist and the fact that she couldn't resist touching that toe to the ground first thing on New Year's day.

Rocks in my socks: Nothing comes to mind.

Every book its reader: Fans of poetry will enjoy this book, but those aren't the only ones.  The book reads very similarly to a regular novel so anyone interested in learning about other cultures, and Vietnam in particular will be able to enjoy this book.  Anyone who has ever felt like a fish out of water or who has had to deal with older brothers will be able to relate to Ha.  The war isn't discussed in detail and the story itself is so sweet and touching I'd say it's fine for third and up.

Insisde Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai 

Buy it or check it out today!

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