A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book is written in a series of short free-verse poems, which are easy to read, fast-paced, descriptive, and poignant. Though it is never preachy or instructional, the short verse poems give much information about life in Vietnam, including the foods, clothing, traditions, the encroaching war, some politics, family structure, and more. Readers will also learn about life as an immigrant as Ha struggles with a new language, eats new foods, meets new kids, deals with attitudes toward Vietnamese immigrants -- and tries to blend Vietnamese customs with new American ones. While the main character is a 10-year-old girl, this story is suitable for boys and readers in a wide age range. Parents should know that this story is filled with beauty and hope even though its backdrop is the Vietnam War.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
The story is told through short free-verse poems, and takes place over the course of one year: In 1975, 10-year-old Ha and her family must leave Vietnam as the Communists take over her home city of Saigon. After secretly departing by ship and staying in two temporary refugee camps, Ha's family finally lands in Alabama with a sponsor family. There, they must learn a new language, go to school, find work, make friends, deal with bullies and suspicion -- and figure out how to become Americans. They must also say a symbolic and definitive goodbye to Ha's father, who was missing in action for 10 years. Readers follow Ha's feisty and honest journey as she navigates her family's emigration from Vietnam, heeds her mother's kind wisdom, deals with her older brothers (and benefits by their protection), meets bullies and kind strangers, and begins to believe in herself again.
Is it any good?
INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN is a memorable story, told beautifully in free verse poetry. The poetry makes Ha's story easy to read and allows readers to fully experience a wide range of situations and emotions without being overwhelmed. Tweens will like the fast pace and Ha's childlike but authentic voice, and parents will appreciate the quality of the characters and opportunity to discuss values, culture, and choices. This story is filled with wisdom (Ha's mother warns her to "be surprised," "be agreeable," and "learn to compromise,") as well as humor (when Ha's mother says to her, "You love to argue, right?" she replies, "No, I don't.") While the Vietnam War is the backdrop to this story, the narration is free from judgment and politics. The story is good for boys and girls in a wide age range, and it also lends itself well to a read-aloud experience. Overall, this is an inspiring story that can be read multiple times, each time providing readers with a deeper appreciation for the writing itself, the characters, and the poignant but subtle life lessons.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the author's decision to write a story that mirrors her own life. In a letter to readers, she says "sit close to someone you love and implore that person to tell and tell and tell their story." Why do you think prompted this advice? What kind of power do immigrant stories -- and other family stories -- hold?
Why do you think the author chose to write this story in verse poetry? Was it easier or harder for you read in this form? How would the book have been different if it had been written in narrative form?
- Author: Thanhha Lai
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
- Publication date: February 22, 2011
- Number of pages: 272
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: December 19, 2020
Our editors recommend
For kids who love poetry
Themes & Topics
Browse titles with similar subject matter.
Top advice and articles
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.