Inside Out and Back Again

Book review by
Kristen Breck, Common Sense Media
Inside Out and Back Again Book Poster Image
Inspiring, educational immigrant story told in free verse.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 9+
Based on 7 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

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. 

Positive Messages

This is an immigrant story -- with the Vietnam War as the backdrop -- but it is also a story of a family's resiliency and hope in a new land.

Positive Role Models & Representations

While Ha can be feisty and impatient, she is honest, caring, thoughtful, devoted to her family, and very brave. Ha's mother is raising four kids as a single parent and she does so with vision, kindness, and strength, even though she has private moments of weakness. Ha's older brothers tease her yet each of them also protect her and contribute to taking care of the family.  

Violence

A boy at school teases Ha. He pokes her in the face and chest and pulls her arm hair. He follows her after school and threatens to beat her up.

Sex
Language

A bully calls Ha names and derides her with ethnic jokes, calling her "Pancake Face."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAhemom March 17, 2016

Safe for kids

Safe for most kids 5th grade +, and some kids 4th grade+. I enjoyed reading it as an adult. Although it does talk about war some and becoming a refugee, it is... Continue reading
Adult Written byOliviaReviewsIt September 23, 2015

Vietnamese Novel Has Many Educational Messages

This book is the story of a young Vietnamese girl who is going through immigration with her family. It is a story of overcoming tough times and knowing that eve... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old May 20, 2012

A memorable, touching, amazing story.

I loved inside out and back again. It appears to be a simple read, being written in free-verse poetry with not very many words on a page, and appears that it... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byamewaalk October 15, 2012

Inside Out & Back Again

I honestly didn't think the book was as good as people said it would be. It was free verse poetry so it was a quick read for me. I don't read very m... Continue reading

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?

Book details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love poetry

Our editors recommend

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.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate