Unless she's your sister, chances are decent you've never found yourself yearning to read the diary of a ten-year-old girl.
Until now, that is.
Say hello to Inside Out & Back Again, Thanhha Lai's 2011 book, and the diary of ten-year-old Hà, a girl forced to flee her home in Saigon, who suddenly finds herself living in Alabama, all thanks to the Vietnam War. Covering the course of one year, each entry is a small poem, brimming with description and honestly recounting the trials and tribulations Hà encounters along the way as she struggles to let go of life as she's always known it and find her way in the United States.
Before you write off this book as some abstract meditation on the terrors of war, though, let us remind you that this entire book is written in the voice of a kid. And this means that as much as it's about war, it's also about how annoying her brothers are, skimming money from the grocery shopping budget in order to treat yo' self, how annoying it is to be a girl sometimes, and how it feels to be bullied at school. In other words, the Vietnam War and culture shock aside, this story also deals with pretty classic growing-up stuff—which makes it easy to relate to and follow.
In case you haven't run out the door to pick up a copy of Inside Out & Back Again at the library yet, we'll leave you with one list bit about it's awesomeness: it won a National Book Award and it's a Newbery Honor Book, which means all kinds of fancy folks think it's pretty special.
So whether you geek out over history, adore poetry, appreciate unusual perspectives, like to keep fancy company, are curious about the impact of war on ordinary lives, or just love the thrill of reading other people's diaries, this book should hit the spot.
We're assuming most of you have read at least one poem in your life (Shel Silverstein, anyone?), but we're willing to bet plenty of you have never read an entire book of poetry.
Though they often have way fewer words than even the shortest of novels, there's something about poetry books that seems to really freak people out; and while we assure you there's nothing to be afraid of—we love poems—we're also all about taking it easy when it comes to trying new things.
Enter: Inside Out and Back Again, Shmoopers, a book of poems dressed up as a novel.
And you know who writes all the poems in this book? A ten-year-old. And though she's quite good for someone her age, she's still just a kid, and this means that she doesn't dabble in tricky metaphors or value rhyme schemes more than the stories she tells. Hà's poetry paints vivid pictures of the world as she sees it and her experiences, while moving along like prose from start to finish.
In other words, this is a book of poetry for people who swear that poetry's not for them, the perfect way to dive into the genre in a way that feels like you're just getting your toes wet. And if you happen to be one of those people who already love poetry, then this is the book for you, too, because, well, it's all poems.
1-2-3 What Are We Fighting For?
Need a crash course in the Vietnam War? We've got you covered, Shmoopers.
Bio of Lai
NPR's write-up about Thanhha Lai, done shortly after she won the National Book Award.
Fifteen Years in the Making
It took Lai fifteen years to really get this book right. Now that's what we call patience and dedication, Shmoopers.
Becoming a Prose Poet
Straight from Lai's mouth (er, keyboard?), some thoughts on becoming a prose poet and the differences between English and Vietnamese.
Lai gets the (former) hometown treatment in this article about her rise from beat journalist to award-winning author.
Lai reading from her book at the National Book Award ceremony.
How to Say Thanhha Lai
We know you've been wondering, so check out this cool recording of Lai explaining her name.
Lai Talks About Inside Out & Back Again
Get a little backstory, in Lai's own words (and voice).
End of War
Photo and article about the end of the Vietnam War.
A photo of the author.