A different take on the Vietnam War era
Inside Out and Back Again
by Thanhha Lai
[#48 in my 52 Book Challenge]
I read this one because I’m on my quest to read the next Newberry BEFORE it becomes the Newberry, and this one has shown up on a lot of lists. I find it interesting that this novel, a story about a Vietnamese girl at the end of the Vietnam War, is up against Okay For Now, also a story about the Vietnam era.
Inside Out and Back Again is told in verse from the point of view of Ha, a ten-year-old girl living in Saigon. Life there becomes increasingly hard at the end of the war, so Ha’s family moves to the United States (Alabama, to be exact) to start a new life. Ha feels strange and alone in her new culture as she tries to figure out American life, and sometimes she wishes she were back in Saigon.
I thought the story was interesting because I have to admit that I don’t know much about the Vietnam War. Seeing things from the point of view of a Vietnamese child, who didn’t really understand the political side of what was going on, parallels my own understanding. I had to go look up the war and fill in some of the gaps to see what was really going on in both Vietnam and the US in 1975. Of course, this immediately made me think of using this book to teach the Vietnam War to middle school students. The story is short enough to teach in class, brings a lot of emotion to the story, and leaves enough gaps to inspire the students to learn more about the bigger picture of the war.
For that reason, I would probably pick this book over Okay for Now to teach in the classroom. I do believe Okay For Now is the better book and better Newberry contender because it is so well written and made me feel some really intense emotions. However, it is so long! Inside Out and Back Again packs a lot into a shorter story that I think most middle school students will be able to understand. I may just be putting it on our next class set order, since the story fits well with the new NC Essential Standards for 7th grade social studies that will be taught starting next year.