'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Saturday 23 November 2013

Review: Inside Out & Back Again

In Australia, at least, the issue of refugees is particularly topical, so it's perhaps easy to forget that people have been fleeing conflict and seeking a safer place to live since human settlement first began. Inside Out & Back Again certainly reminded me of this and brought the refugee experience to life like no other book I've read.

Ten-year-old Hà has lived in Saigon all her life. It's a city of vibrant markets, rich tradition and close-knit family and friends. But now she and her family are forced to flee as the Vietnam War reaches into her city and tears apart her entire world.

Her new home is in the US state of Alabama. The people are, for the most part, cold and unwelcoming. The food is bland. The language is incomprehensible. But slowly, ever so slowly, Hà adapts, drawing on the strength of her family and her own resilience to begin to forge a new life for herself — one very different from what she'd once imagined, but one embracing joy and hope nonetheless.

Written in prose poems to reflect what it's like to think in Vietnamese, the result is a book of rich, lyrical beauty. I found myself re-reading phrases and sentences just so that I could enjoy the imagery, while the poignancy of simple, spare lines such as:

I wish 
Father would appear in our doorway
and make Mother's lips
curl upward,
lifting them from
a permanent frown
of worries

brought tears to my eyes. Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Young People's Literature and a 2012 Newbery Honor Book, this is a book that I will return to again and again. It's a book for all ages. Read it … please.

Title: Inside Out & Back Again
Author: Thanhha Lai
Publisher: UQP, $16.95 RRP
Publication Date: October 2012
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780702249419
For ages: 10+
Type: Middle Fiction