Inside Out and Back Again

Inside OutInside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This was one of those stories that goes down easy.  Though the content was compelling  and deep, the presentation was gentle and unpretentious.   It’s apparent simplicity is misleading, for Lai is masterful with language.  She communicates succinctly with powerful words ideas that many could not convey nearly as well with entire paragraphs.

It is one of those experiences that seems easy to do; makes me want to try to write a story in verse myself.  I am sure I will quickly realize that I have minimized the difficultly of such a task!  Oh how her powerful management of language belies it’s easiness!

Inside Out and Back Again is a historical fiction account of a little girl, Há.  The reader follows her through her journey from war torn Vietnam to the United States.  Her  adjustment to a new culture and the mistreatment that her Vietnamese family face mingle with the seemingly insurmountable loss she endured.

As a novice writer, I appreciate Lai’s word pictures and her ability to conjure deep emotions with minimal words.  Let me share a taste:


On the third day

we join the sea

toward Thailand.

The commander says

it’s safe enough

for his men to cook,

for us to go above deck,

for all to smile a little.

He says there’s enough

rice and water

for three weeks,

but rescue should happen

much earlier.

Do not worry,

ships from all countries

are out looking for us.

Morning, noon, and night

we each get

one clump of rice,

small, medium, large,

according to our height,

plus one cup of water

no matter our size.

The first hot bite

of freshly cooked rice,

plump and nutty,

makes me imagine

the taste of ripe papaya

although one has nothing

to do with the other.

I opened the book randomly, to be honest, to find something to share.  I was confident that wherever I opened would delineate my point.  From six brief stanzas we get a vivid picture of the scarcity she endures on this ship (while I sit here luxuriously munching on chips and pineapple salsa) as well as her feelings about her situation.  The wonderful part is that our imagination is left to fill in the gaps, which isn’t hard to do when you have the rest of the story in context.

What I need to take away from this magnificent work is how well the author strained all of her potential ideas and determined the essential parts, how powerful precise words are, and the importance of leaving some things to the imagination.  What is of most importance is Thanhha Lai created a piece that makes me want to read it again AND stirs in me a desire to write!

Oh, how can I forget to mention?  National Book Award Winner and Newberry Honor Book.

The One That Did It For Me!

This is the book that did it for me.  I was in fourth grade and I read words well, but I didn’t pay attention while reading so my comprehension was less than impressive.  We went to library every week and the miniscule library at my Catholic school did not excite me.  But I remember coming along Freedom Train: The Story of Harriet Tubman by Dorothy Sterling.Image

I had this unique feeling of not wanting to put the book down as I read page after page of this amazing woman. Prior to reading this story, I don’t recall learning much about the underground railroad.  But this stuck and it made me want to read more.  (A good book can have a greater power than a good teacher.  Sorry to say, but true.) The excitement for reading did not continue, even though I volunteered regularly at the local public library.  But this planted a little seed in me that has grown, many years later, into an enjoyment for reading historical and realistic fiction, and now an aspiration to write one of my own.

Here’s to you, Dorothy Sterling.  Thank you for inadvertently planting that seed.

Hmm, I think it is time to read that story again! Time to head to the library 🙂

Which one did it for you?