Inside Out and Back Again

I bought this on the Kindle. It's a book group selection for next month, under the topic of Refugees. Given the traumatic subject matter, Thannha Lai's verse novel is a delightful, subtle approach to the refugee experience. The first section deals with ten year old Ha's childhood in wartime Saigon, overshadowed by a father missing in action, bombings and food shortages; but still preoccupied with everyday sibling battles and the promise of new papayas on her tree. The central section covers the family's last-gasp flight from the city and their ordeal at sea. The final, longest section of the book describes Ha's first few months of life in her new home, Alabama -- struggling with a new language, bullying classmates, and all the strangeness of a new culture. But by the end of the novel, Ha has begun to make friends, and the future looks brighter.

For a slim volume, Inside Out and Back Again covers a lot of ground, with grace, humour and pathos. It's not too confronting for kids, but any child would be able to relate to Ha's wrenching journey and her fierce determination to survive, even though her fellow students in America seem to loom as a larger threat than the bombs and soldiers of Saigon.

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