Thanhha Lai

Inside Out And Back Again

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Inside Out And Back Again Summary

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Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Laiis a middle-grade novel written for children. Lai’s semi-autobiographical story takes place in 1975. The narrator and protagonist, Ha, is a ten-year-old girl who lives in Saigon. The story tracks her family’s immigration to the United States. Ha has her mother, as well as three older brothers, Vu, Khoi, and Quang. Ha’s father isnot around because he was captured by Communists, while on a naval mission, nine years before the story takes place.

North Vietnamese forces are making their way toward Saigon. Food scarcities and high prices make survival difficult. From the start of the book, the tension is high, as are the stakes for Ha and her family. Her Uncle Son, a friend of her father’s, suggests they be prepared to leave Saigon with little to no notice. Some members of Ha’s family want to go, and some want to stay. Ultimately, they decide they must all go together. They flee and manage to escape Saigon via boat just as the Communists arrive and take the city.

It takes weeks aboard a ship, but Ha and her family finally reach Thailand. There is still a food and water shortage, but at least the Communists are not knocking down their doors. Ha and her brothers have the opportunity to practice English, and for the first time, they feel hopeful about their future. When an American naval vessel arrives with food and supplies, everyone is overjoyed. The Americans tow the boat from Thailand to Guam, where there is a camp for refugees.

From the refugee camp, most people move on to France, the United States, or Canada. Mr. Johnston, who owns a farm in Alabama, sponsors their immigration to the United States and helps them by guiding them and seeing to their needs. Despite the fact that Ha feels homesick both for Saigon and for the culture they leave behind, her mother tells her that she must assimilate as quickly as possible. Ha’s mother wants her to forget what they left behind, including their culture.

While in Alabama, neighbors and locals treat Ha and her family with mixed responses. Some of them are nice, and go out of their way to welcome them, whereas others are decidedly unfriendly. In addition to Mr. Johnston, their neighbor, Miss Washington, and Ha’s teacher, Miss Scott, treat them kindly. However, a bully at school gives Ha trouble. He makes fun of her whenever he has the chance, until his bullying becomes a physical threat. Ha defends herself, scaring him in the process so that he no longer bullies her. Throughout these difficulties, she receives support from the nice people they have met in Alabama, as well as her family. Vu teaches her the self-defense techniques that put an end to the bullying.

As more people in their lives act kindly toward Ha, her mother, and her brothers,they start to feel they are building a new home in America.Around the Vietnamese New Year, a letter arrives from Ha’s uncle, who reports that he has heard nothing of her father. The family is saddened and worried, and when Ha’s mother loses an amethyst ring he had given her years ago, they determine it is a sign that he is no longer alive. Ha’s family mourns his loss. They decide their future lies in America and that they must move forward, vowing to remember the past, honoring both Ha’s father and the culture they were forced to leave behind.

Many themes are present throughout Inside Out and Back Again. One of those themes is family. Ha is guided by her family. Her mother and brothers have a strong influence on her and are also a source of support. When everything feels like it is going wrong, such as when Ha is being bullied at school, her family is there for her. Another important theme is culture. When Ha’s family first arrives in America, her mother thinks they should abandon their Vietnamese heritage. By the end of the novel though, Ha and her family strike a balance between their Vietnamese culture and their new American culture. This requires a change in self-identity. Other themes include racism, Communism, and war. All three of these elements have negative effects on the lives of people like Ha and her family, and present challenges that they must surmount. Each time they think they are free from onechalenge, another presents itself. For example, just when they escape Communism and war by coming to America, they face racism. But these negative themes are whittled away by the love within Ha’s family, their hope for the future, and their ability to reconcile their Vietnamese and American cultures.