Study Guide

Kim Hà in Inside Out & Back Again

By Thanhha Lai

Kim Hà

Hà is our main girl in Inside Out and Back Again, the poet whose words we read as she goes from enjoying her free time in Saigon to—after much trial and tribulation—finally starting to settle into life in the United States, all thanks to the Vietnam War. She might only be ten years old, but Hà sees a lot in the year this book covers, and it's safe to say that she's wise beyond her years.

Spice

For someone so nice, Hà has a feisty side to her. She likes to compete and feel smart, and when she doesn't, well, she's not exactly one to just sit back and let things slide. So when she is totally annoyed by her brothers, instead of kissing up or making nice in hopes of getting them to treat her better, she writes:

I can't make my brothers
Go live elsewhere,
but I can
hide their sandals.
(1.3.5)

It's classic younger sibling behavior, right? We're guessing Hà's not familiar with the old phrase you kill more flies with honey. Considering that they each only have one pair of shoes and it's hot out, this sneaky little scheme becomes a real pain in the foot, so it's no wonder her brothers don't respond by showering her with kindnesses.

The thing about Hà, though, is that she doesn't just act out to get revenge on her pesky older brothers—she does it to feel a sense of power at school, too. For instance, when she is working away on a math problem in school one day, and the siren interrupts her by going off, she tells us:

I'm mad and pinch the girl
who shares my desk.
Tram is half my size,
so skinny and nervous.

Our mothers are friends.
She will tell on me.
She always tells on me.
(1.18.4)

It seems like Hà pinches Tram because the siren interrupting her is the last straw in a long line of small moments in which Hà feels powerless, not because Hà is actually mean or anything, though Tram might not agree. So while Hà pesters her brothers in a pretty standard fashion, when she pinches Tram we are reminded that Hà has had more hardship and unfairness than most other children—so much, in fact, that a siren going off during a math problem is enough to make her boil over for a moment.

Sugar

Hà isn't always feisty, however, and she can also be sweet, kind, thoughtful, and observant. For instance, when Khoi's dead (and totally rotting) chick is found and taken from him, he is freaking out and totally depressed. His sister recognizes his pain (instead of, say, being grossed out that he's been hiding a dead chick), and does the following:

I hold his hand:Come with me.

He doesn't resist.
[…]
Inside lies my mouse-bitten doll,
her arms wrapped around
the limp fuzzy body of his chick.

I tie it all into a bundle.
(2.7.5)

Hà takes her doll—pretty much the only personal belonging she was able to take from Saigon when they left—and she wraps it around the dead chick, then throws the bundle into the ocean. That fact that Hà sacrifices her own comfort object to comfort her brother is a remarkably thoughtful and humble act, and one that shows maturity beyond her ten years. So while she might hide her brothers' shoes, she also really loves them, and is willing to do whatever she can to make sure they know it.

And Everything Nice

Though she has a hard time accepting the incredible changes her life goes through, by the end of the book, things are looking up for Hà. She and her family are in their own home, kids are being nicer to her at school, and she's regained a sense of hope for her future. So though Hà has seen more than her fair share of hardship during the past year, including moving halfway around the world and confirmation of the death of her father, her resilience is undeniable, which should only serve her well going forward.

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