Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Incredibly Beautiful Story
Every now and then a story comes along that leaves you breathless. It is so beautiful you think about it more and more. Finishing the book doesn't stop you from thinking about it. You tell people about the book, pass it on to others, and think about it some more. This is how I felt about Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. I couldn't get it out of my mind.
Ha's family is from North Vietnam, but her parents made the decision to leave the north and move south to escape the Communists. Ha's father has been missing for years, but they all hope he will return home one day. Ha knows she should be a good girl, but she can't help it sometimes. During the New Year, she knows her brother is supposed to be the first out of bed in the morning because boys are good luck. That doesn't stop her from putting her big toe on the ground before he gets out of bed. She doesn't like being told girls aren't good luck too. When Ha's uncle tells them they must escape Vietnam as the war comes their way, they reluctantly leave the only home they have ever known.
The journey from Vietnam is very scary and involves a ship and the hope of rescue. When they see the American ship, they know they are saved, but their future is uncertain. They wait for a long time to be chosen by an American host family. When they are chosen by a Cowboy, they begin their new life in Alabama. There Ha experiences prejudices and alienation by people who just see her as Vietnamese. As different. She and her brothers struggle to learn English and fit in in this scary new land. Most of all, she misses her father. Ha lives more "life" in her few short years than most people live in a lifetime.
Inside Out and Back Again is a book written in verse. While the writing reads a lot like prose, enough so for someone to understand it easily, it is still incredibly beautiful and melodious. As you read each short chapter, you find yourself amazed by how powerful each bit is. As with most poetry, each word is carefully chosen for maximum power and effect. No emotion is wasted, no word is unnecessary. The book left me reeling from philosophical statements that force you to examine the world and life as a whole. This is a powerful book that you won't forget for a long time.
I would suggest this book for any class or tutoring situation where you will have the opportunity to read it aloud with a child. It is so beautiful and full of discussion-worthy content, you will be happy to spend time picking your way through it. The language is not complex, but the meaning behind it is. The story of a young child leaving a war-stricken land is so foreign to our students it would make a good learning experience as well. They will learn a lot from Ha and her family. In fact, I guarantee they will think about Ha for long after you finish the final stanza.