Thursday, August 11, 2011

Inside Out and Back Again

I am not crazy about blank verse poetry. I don't understand why someone would sit down to write a novel and choose that format to tell the story. I don't understand why many readers get all excited about it.  I'm sure it is some sort of hitch with my own brain but I usually can't connect with the characters as well and I find the story awkward and stilted. This was not the case with Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Inside Out and Back Again tell the story of Ha, a 10 year old Vietnamese girl. It begins a couple months before the fall of Saigon and covers a year in Ha's life as her family flees their country, lives in two refugee camps, and begins a new life in Alabama.

Ha is a wonderful narrator and very sympathetic. At the same time she has a smart sarcastic tone that is usually hard to convey with blank verse. Part of my sympathy for her came from knowledge. I taught in a school that had a large refugee population. I can picture exactly how Ha looked sitting at her desk, head down, avoiding everyone and everything. I can also picture the look of smug triumph on her face when she did the math problem perfectly, exhilarated joy in her eyes. I however, never used my refugee kids as a living museum exhibit for the class. Yes, let's show picture of the charred remains of our new student's country and people. WHAT. THE. HECK. The pain of Ha's situation is vividly portrayed in the writing of incidents like that and bullying from the other kids.

The devastation and also the beauty of Vietnam are rendered in the vivid descriptions used.

There were scenes that made me wince, smile, laugh and cry. This is a new experience for me with a blank verse novel so I am impressed with the author's skills.

Inside Out and Back Again is generating some Newbery buzz and I can see why. This book is much needed. It is an emotive tale of a girl who experiences the trauma of war and the scary necessity of a new life written by someone who experienced those things first hand. The teacher in me couldn't help but plan as I read. It is perfect literature to go with a unit on Vietnam. Outlines of such a unit took shape in my mind. I will definitely by having my own kids read it when the time comes. I don't know that this would be a book most kids would gravitate to on their own. The cover will attract them but I don't think most will make it past the first 10 pages without guidance. Without the context the beginning is difficult to understand and full of foreign words. Most kids don't have the context to help them unlock it.

If they do I think that they will connect with and love the story. It is genuine and has a beating heart you can't help but feel.

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