Inside out and Back Again is a beautifully written narrative of immigration. Thanhha Lai does not show concern about traditional word count but rather the presentation of the story in which her words can be framed and thought of over and over again.
The verse novel is about Hà, who escaped with her mother and brothers from Vietnam to the States as a result of the Vietnam War in the mid 1970s. The verse novel showcases her adjustment to American culture and how her brothers and Hà survived growing up in such a different environment. The form allowed for more moments of pause throughout the text than what is normally considered the typical format of novels. Instead of featuring a form in which words are jammed into each other in the pages’ expanded content, this novel’s form followed one of a lineated poem. Passages are broken up by stanzas, allowing white space to exist in which the reader could visually savor each word. Given the childlike narration, the narrator makes innocent yet insightful claims through her passage to America. Such as the line, “everyone must follow \ despite how we feel” (1) exists in white space, a solemn statement from a child which could have been easily overlooked by a reader if it was presented in a different form.
The story follows Hà for the course of a year from her home in Vietnam, to a starving ship, to a rural farmland where she is alienated for being Vietnamese. Thanhha Lai allows readers to learn in depth about the world surrounding the main character’s journey and show’s how much a setting can impact a child. Each setting showcases a different aspect of Hà’s life, and the potency of descriptions can make a reader become lost in the lines.
Inside out and Back Again is a great resource for fiction writers and poets alike and serves to inspire writers that sometimes a story must be told, but that doesn’t mean the story has to conform to the conventions of a novel or the brevity of more traditional poems. Through the youthful narrative of a young Vietnamese girl, this verse novel is a refreshing take on the epic.