In this novel in verse, based in part upon Lai’s own experiences, Há must leave behind the only life she’s ever known, that of a South Vietnamese child during the Vietnam war. In Vietnam, she is a slightly spoiled youngest child, well-educated, loved, and teased by her three older brothers. But when she and her family escape to America, and eventually end up in Alabama, life is unexpectedly harder. In America, Há’s family has little money, and she no longer feels smart. At her school, she hides in the classroom to avoid playground bullies.
But there are good things too. The cowboy who sponsors Há’s family, the neighbor who offers to tutor the children in English, and the new friends that ultimately help Há defeat the class bully.
Lai’s poetry captures the delight of fresh papaya, the silence of fear, and the bond of family loyalty. Presenting the joys and the hardships of Vietnam as well as those of trying to fit in after coming to Alabama, Inside Out & Back Again is beautifully written, and richly evocative of a different time and place.
Reviewed by Melendra