Wednesday, March 16, 2011

YA Book Review: Inside Out & Back Again

Inside Out and Back AgainInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

YA author Thanhha Lai recounts her experiences as a child-growing-into-adolescence while the Vietnam War grinds to a halt and the Americans pull out of South Vietnam. The autobiographical Inside Out & Back Again is written in narrative poetry which is sectioned into four parts: Saigon, At Sea, Alabama, and From Now On.

I just had a conference in my class with a student who wanted to make her story sound / read more innocently. Writing from the perspective of a child, she wanted to write how a child sees, what it sees, how it names things. It is more than just changing some words, the writer has to try to recount what is indeed important to a child...a child's priorities are unique and should be treated as such. This is a part of what makes Inside Out & Back Again successful.

Lai's brings our narrator Hå to life with the sensibility of both an artist and also someone who is completely saturated with the experience:

I can't make my brothers
go live elsewhere
but I can
hide their sandals

There is a hint in the book that even at a young age Lai's alter ego understood that she was an artist and on the path towards being someone beautiful:

Mother has always wanted
an engineer, a real doctor, a poet,
and a lawyer.

She turns to me.
You love to argue, right?

No I don't.

She brightens.

I vow to become much more agreeable.

There are many perspectives to consider in a YA novel like this: history, culture, growing up, family, siblings, bullying, racism, war, politics, and even to a much more complex degree love and loss, comfort, acceptance, and inner strength or pride. The mother is a mighty character...her presence is felt within each poem. I could feel her eyes on Hå as I read, even if she wasn't included in on that particular poem.

I chant,
wanting the gentle strokes
to continue forever.

I chant
wanting Mother's calmness
to sink into me.

The book lists itself as appropriate for ages 8-12, but quite honestly I enjoyed it as much as any book written for my age range--and I don't mean as a curiosity. This is a book which brings a slice of history alive (which I love in YA literature) but the history is a backdrop. History is what happens around human beings. Lai has captured the human experience and presented it as a thoroughly enriching experience for the YA audience.

Highly recommended for your middle school bookshelf.

View all my reviews

No comments:

Post a Comment