Study Guide

Inside Out & Back Again Coming-of-Age

By Thanhha Lai

Coming-of-Age

Mornings free,
Mother trusts me
to shop at the open market. (1.10.2)

Even at the beginning of the book we see Hà beginning to develop some independence, taking on the responsibility of shopping for the family instead of tagging along with her mom.

Wish I could lose my chubby cheeks.

Wish I could stay calm
no matter what
my brothers say. (1.15.4-5)

One of the first signs that young people are beginning to come-of-age is that they start noticing their appearance and behavior, and how it differs from adults.

I am proud
of my ability
to save
until I see
tears
in Mother's
deep eyes. (1.23.3)

This is part shows how Hà is growing up in two ways. On one hand, she has become conscious of the need to conserve and not waste food, but on the other hand, more subtly we see that she realizes that her mother does not see Hà's consciousness of the need to conserve as a good thing. Hà gets that Mother wishes their lives were different, and that her daughter knew different things than the importance of not wasting a morsel.

I promise myself
to never again
make fun of
Bruce Lee. (1.31.7)

Instead of mocking her brother, Hà recognizes that Vu's practice has saved them, and humbly acknowledges that she was wrong to judge him.

But no one
is heartless enough
to say
stopbecause what if
they had been
stoppedbefore their turn? (1.32.5)

Hà is tuned into the goings-on of the ships taking people out of Vietnam, and appreciates that the reason the ship has been filled way beyond capacity is because no one wants to be the person who doesn't allow someone to escape. There's a lot of maturity in Hà's ability to recognize that part of the reason this is happening is because the people making the calls about who gets on and who doesn't are aware of their own stroke of luck in making the cut.

Mother sighs.

I don't blame her,
having a daughter
who's either
dying of thirst
or demanding release. (2.1.4-5)

Wow, how understanding of Hà, right? Most pre-teens are never that nice to their mothers…

I hold his hand:
Come with me.

He doesn't resist.
[…]
I tie it all into a bundle. (2.7.5-6)

Pass the tissues, please. Sniff. What a sacrifice, what a good sister; Brother Khoi needs someone to take care of him during his heartache and Hà knows just what to do. Her willingness to sacrifice her only personal possession to comfort her brother is a sign of maturity if we've ever seen one.

I feel guilty
having not once
thought of Father. (2.9.7)

Feeling guilty about not thinking of a father she has never known seems to be a worry beyond someone who is ten, who typically might worry more about how to find friends or amusements on board the ship. Then again, though, this isn't exactly a cruise.

Would be simpler
if English
and life
were logical. (3.12.3)

Hà really is on to something here, but of course, life and English just aren't that logical, so simplicity's off the table for our main girl.

I look down
at the tiny blue flower
barely stitched on.

I rip it off.
Nightgown no more. (4.5.13)

Having gained a whole lot of self-confidence, Hà is no longer distraught about doing something potentially embarrassing, like accidentally wearing pajamas to school, and remedies the situation on her own without batting an eye.

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