Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Inside Out and Back Again

I'm celebrating going back to school with a week of Middle Grade novel reviews.

I admit it: I'm not much of a nonfiction reader. Unless it's a professional development book, nonfiction doesn't hold much sway for me. So, I am especially excited when I come across some YA fiction that teaches me. In the case of Inside Out and Back Again, it's about an Vietnamese immigrant's experience in 1975.

At ten years old, Kim Hà loves her life in Saigon with her three brothers, mother, and papaya tree. While she longs for her missing father, she is proud of her city and being a smart girl. Everything changes when The Vietnamese People's Army takes control of the city and Hà's family has to flee, first to a refugee camp in Guam, and then to Alabama. Having moved from The Bahamas to South Korea, I can appreciate some of Hà's trepidation and frustration in settling in.

My favorite aspect of the book (besides the stunning cover), is how Lai approaches bullying. This Vietnamese family was not embraced by its new community and each of the children deals with bullying in his or her own way. It is poignant that when Hà begins to learn English, she understands the cruelty of her schoolmates even more, stating,

"I understand
and wish
I could go back
to not understanding."

Written in verse, Inside Out and Back Again reminds me of Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave. While the two protagonists are from different places, the themes of immigration, fitting in, and loneliness would be compatible in literature circles or class novels. Best of all, both novels make readers consider their behavior towards immigrants and hopefully increase the kindness that they show.

This novel is a must-read for fans of historical fiction and novels written in verse.

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