Inside Out & Back Again

Written by Thanhha Lai
Review by Juliet Waldron

Told as an easily read poem, this is the story of Ha` and of her family’s harrowing escape to a refugee camp after the fall of Saigon. Just ten years old, her father MIA, she soon finds herself, with her older brothers and her mother, a stranger in a very strange land – Alabama. Here, struggling with the new language, as well as her color – neither “black” nor “white” – she is taunted, chased, and mocked. Here, eggs and bricks are thrown at her house. Here, her family discovers that it is safer to be baptized at their big-hearted sponsor’s evangelical church than to admit they are Buddhists. So far, this sounds pretty grim, not standard 8- to 12-year-old fare, but I was entirely enthralled by Ha`’s story. Her insights about her new country and the people in it are witty, out-of-the-mouths-of-babes spot-on, all while remaining utterly true to the heart and mind of her age group. Funny, heartbreaking, uplifting, melancholy, joyous — it’s all in here. I highly recommend this book. It should be read in schools, placed in libraries, and used by Sunday School teachers, too.