Cover image for Inside out & back again
Inside out & back again
Publication Information:
[Prince Frederick, Md.] : Recorded Books, [2012]
Physical Description:
2 sound discs (2 hr., 30 min.) : digital ; 4 3/4 in.
General Note:
Compact discs.
Added Author:
Through a series of poems, a young girl chronicles the life-changing year of 1975, when she, her mother, and her brothers leave Vietnam and resettle in Alabama.


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



Inside Out and Back Again

Author Notes

Thanhha Lai was born in 1965 in Vietnam. She is an American writer of children's literature. At the Fall of Saigon April 30, 1975, her soldier father was missing in action. Mother and children fled to the United States and moved to Montgomery,Alabama, because one man there was willing to sponsor all ten of them. Before high school, the family had moved to Fort Worth, Texas. Lai graduated from University of Texas, Austin with a degree in journalism and from 1988 worked about two years for the Orange County, California newspaper The Register, covering Little Saigon, the local Vietnamese community. She earned a Master of Fine Arts from New York University and settled in New York City, where she teaches at Parsons The New School for Design.

In 2011, she won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and a Newbery Honor for her debut novel, Inside Out & Back Again, published by HarperCollins. It is a verse novel based on her first year in the United States, a ten-year-old child who spoke no English when she arrived. In 2013 this novel made The New York Times best seller list.


(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Narrating in sparse free-verse poems, 10-year-old Ha brings a strong, memorable voice to the immigrant experience as her family moves from war-torn South Vietnam to Alabama in 1975. First-time author Lai, who made the same journey with her family, divides her novel into four sections set in Vietnam, "At Sea," and the last two in Alabama. Lai gives insight into cultural and physical landscapes, as well as a finely honed portrait of Ha's family as they await word about Ha's POW father and face difficult choices (awaiting a sponsor family, "...Mother learns/ sponsors prefer those/ whose applications say ¿Christians.'/ Just like that/ Mother amends our faith,/ saying all beliefs/ are pretty much the same"). The taut portrayal of Ha's emotional life is especially poignant as she cycles from feeling smart in Vietnam to struggling in the States, and finally regains academic and social confidence. A series of poems about English grammar offer humor and a lens into the difficulties of adjusting to a new language and customs ("Whoever invented English/ should be bitten/ by a snake"). An incisive portrait of human resilience. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Horn Book Review

Recounting events that resemble her own family's 1975 flight from Saigon and first months in the United States, Lai pens a novel in vividly imagined verse. Each brief poem encapsulates a mood and experience of that year. As the Vietnam War nears its end in April, ten-year-old Ha's "Birthday Wishes" include "Wish Mother would stop / chiding me to stay calm / which makes it worse" and that "Father [who's missing in action] would come home." Registering for school in Alabama in August, Ha encounters "a woman who / pats my head / while shaking her own. / I step back, / hating pity, /...the pity giver / feels better, / never the pity receiver." Such condescension is new to Ha and her brothers, all excellent students, as is being daunted by challenges like the urgent need to master idiosyncratic English. Meanwhile, Brother Vu takes odd jobs; Quang (who once said, "One cannot justify war / unless each side / flaunts its own / blind conviction") repairs cars. Many neighbors and classmates, with their own blind convictions, are cruelly antagonistic, but Ha soon finds allies at school and in English-tutor Ms. Washington. Lai's spare language captures the sensory disorientation of changing cultures as well as a refugee's complex emotions and kaleidoscopic loyalties. That Ms. Washington's son died in Vietnam underlines the disparity between nations' quarrels and their citizens' humanity, suggesting this as a provocative companion to Katherine Paterson's Park's Quest (rev. 7/88). joanna rudge long (c) Copyright 2011. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Booklist Review

*Starred Review* After her father has been missing in action for nine years during the Vietnam War, 10-year-old Hà flees with her mother and three older brothers. Traveling first by boat, the family reaches a tent city in Guam, moves on to Florida, and is finally connected with sponsors in Alabama, where Hà finds refuge but also cruel rejection, especially from mean classmates. Based on Lai's personal experience, this first novel captures a child-refugee's struggle with rare honesty. Written in accessible, short free-verse poems, Hà's immediate narrative describes her mistakes both humorous and heartbreaking with grammar, customs, and dress (she wears a flannel nightgown to school, for example); and readers will be moved by Hà's sorrow as they recognize the anguish of being the outcast who spends lunchtime hiding in the bathroom. Eventually, Hà does get back at the sneering kids who bully her at school, and she finds help adjusting to her new life from a kind teacher who lost a son in Vietnam. The elemental details of Hà's struggle dramatize a foreigner's experience of alienation. And even as she begins to shape a new life, there is no easy comfort: her father is still gone.--Rochman, Hazel Copyright 2010 Booklist

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-8-Spanning one Tet to the next from 1975 to 1976, Thanhha Lai's semi-autobiographical novel (HarperCollins, 2011) is divided into four chapters: "Saigon," "At Sea," "Alabama," "From Now On." Ha, her mother, and her three brothers live in Saigon and her father has been missing in action for nine years. The threat of invasion from the North forces the family to flee on a South Vietnamese naval ship. After a rough trip, they are rescued by an American ship and go to America. They spend weeks in a tent city until a car lot owner sponsors the family and they move to Alabama. Ha faces discrimination, is bullied in school, makes new friends, and finally makes peace with the fact that her father is never coming home. This National Book Award winner and Newbery Honor Book offers a heart-breaking look at the costs of the Vietnam war, what it means to be an immigrant in a new country, and the strength of family. It ends on a hopeful note with the start of a new Tet and the hope for a bright future for the family. Doan Ly perfectly portrays Ha's youth and innocence, and captures the humor and emotions of the situations, especially those involving the quirks of the English language. A great addition to library collections.-Sarah Flood, Breckinridge County Public Library, Hardinsburg, KY (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.