Study Guide

Inside Out & Back Again Sadness

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She cannot bear
to look into Father's
eyes. (1.6.9)

The first sign of sadness we get is about Hà's father, who has been missing for nine years, yet everyone hopes is still alive.

From now on
will be for
happy news.

No one has anything
to say. (1.9.3)

Even in school, where the children are happiest, there is no current news that doesn't make them feel sad. So though Hà seems like a generally happy kid, she is surrounded by sadness in Saigon.

Eyes like hers can't help
but carry sadness;
even as a child
her parents were alarmed
by the weight in her eyes. (1.14.14)

Is it possible to be born with some knowledge of sadness? Is this what people mean when they say a baby has wisdom in their eyes?

Her brows
twist so much
we hush. (1.21.10)

Hà's mother's eyes are often clues to her feelings, and when she twists her brows at the gravity of the situation they find themselves in—trying to decide whether to stay or flee—her children fall silent out of respect.

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

We think most parents would feel sad about their children going hungry and learning not to waste their food, since there isn't much of it.

I don't know them
so their pain seems unreal
next to Brother Khoi's,
whose eyes are as wild
as those of his broken chick. (2.7.4)

This is an interesting moment. On the ship, Hà is surrounded by people who are sad—they've all just fled their homes, after all—and yet the sadness of strangers doesn't resonate as half as real to her as her brother's sadness over the death of his chick.

Brother Quang translates
into a microphone,
his voice sad and slow. (2.13.4)

Being forced to do things that you really don't want to do, or that are inconvenient, can make people sad, too. This is a big responsibility for Quang, and he doesn't want it.

My new teacher tilts
her head back
an even sadder laugh. (3.14.16)

The saddest thing about Hà's teacher in the United States is that she has no clue how to help Hà integrate into her classroom.

No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama. (3.37.8)

There is so much for Hà to feel sad about, and this statement sums it all up: She is homesick. Even if Saigon wasn't perfect, it was still home.

I run.

All the while
surging from my gut:

Being bullied, teased, objectified, and hated all cause Hà and whole lot of sadness. Not only is she a long way from home, but she isn't receiving a warm—or even kind—welcome at school, which just makes things even harder for her.

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