readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rgz Salon: Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai, Reviewed by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann has been the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The book has had multiple print runs and is available for order. (Don't forget to read the fascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)

We're honored to have Lyn here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, she reviews Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins), a National Book Award Winner for 2011:

"The novel begins during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year that also serves as the birthday for all Vietnamese people. This year, in 1975, Ha is ten years old, and even she perceives the concern among her family and neighbors that the next Tet will see cataclysmic changes. The government in Saigon is barely hanging on, and within months, the Communists gain control of the entire country. Ha’s father, a South Vietnamese Navy officer, has been missing for years, but his fellow officers urge Ha’s mother to flee the country with her four children—Ha and her three older brothers Quang, Vu, and Khoi. After weeks in a refugee camp, they find a sponsor in Alabama and move to their new home where they encounter language difficulties and prejudice. To gain acceptance and assistance, they have to be baptized as Christians and attend church, though Mother clings to the old ways in secret. Ha and her three brothers struggle, grow, and find ways to make a life in their new land, and by the next Tet, all have begun to find a direction.

"Loosely based on the author’s own immigration experience in 1975 at the age of nine, this novel is told in verse that reflects the protagonist’s grappling with an unfamiliar language. Because Vietnamese is a pictorial language, images play a strong role in the narrative—the papaya that Ha misses, other typical Vietnamese foods and their poorly-matched American counterparts, the chick that Khoi hatches and tries to bring with him, Vu’s motorcycle and karate moves that make him the most popular of Ha’s family, the bully that Ha calls Pink Boy. Many of the poems rely on sound—alliteration and onomatopoeia—to depict Ha’s first efforts to learn English. Her teacher is 'MiSSS SScott' and her tutor 'MiSSSisss WaSShington.' She thinks of her first two friends, Pam and Steven, as 'Pem' and 'SSsì-Ti-Vân.' Along with evoking the process by which a confused immigrant learns a new language, Lai gives all her characters—not only Ha but also her three brothers and her mother—distinct desires and personalities that make them memorable and compelling." -Lyn Miller-Lachmann


Lorie Ann Grover said...

Thanks, Lyn! Can't wait to read this award-winning verse novel!

Melissa Walker said...

I am seriously excited to read it too. Thank you, Lyn!

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