Inside Out and Back Again

Every new year Mother visits
the I Ching Teller of Fate.
This year he predicts 
our lives will twist inside out…
The war is coming
closer to home.

A young girl escapes the war in Vietnam in Thanhha Lai’s National Book Award finalist Inside Out & Back Again.  Written in verse, Lai’s poetry follows the escape of a young Vietnamese girl, Hà, from her war-torn homeland to her new home in Alabama.

Lai offers poetic images of the conditions on the escape boat, the rescue by the Americans, the stopover in Guam – poignantly told by a little girl, who is at once angry, afraid, and hopeful as she waits with her family to be sponsored…

“We wait and wait,  but Mother says a possible widow, three boys, and a pouty girl make too huge a family by American standards.”

Hà struggles to acclimate to new surroundings in Alabama with a new language, reciting the rules as she learns verbs and endings – “so this is what dumb feels like” – nothing to the humiliation of being put on display at church by their sponsors.

“No one would believe me..but at times..I would choose..wartime in Saigon..over..peacetime in Alabama.”

Over a year, Hà and her mother become more assertive, determined to not just survive but to reclaim their lives.  Lai’s poetry gives a sharp, focused image to their struggle, as told by an angry fourth-grader, and clearly offers insight into the daily challenges of starting over.