Happy MMGM and Memorial Day!
What does Memorial Day mean to you? For many it’s the pool opening, which I have to admit is a big love of ours, too. For others it’s the beginning of summer trips and cookouts–no arguments there. Still others focus on our beloved veterans, and for my extended family on my husband’s side, it means visiting graves and placing flowers while family stories are told, followed by an ice cream social/mini-reunion for anyone who can come. I’m grateful this day can include so many things, and embrace them all! But I find in recent years as I approach Memorial Day I ponder all the hundreds–truly millions–of people who have walked this earth and made it a better place for me because they did. Ancestors, trailing back through the ages. Far flung strangers, who still left their mark and slanted us toward a better place. I’m grateful to them all for their courage, strength, perseverence, faith, humor and kindness. So, this week’s MMGM reflects all of those. Today I’m spotlighting Inside Out and Back Again, by Thanhha Lai.
First off, I have to give credit where it’s due to my book club for choosing this book for us to read and discuss in May. I still haven’t -entirely- gotten past my reluctance to read books in a non-traditional format, despite my great experience with May B, so it’s possible that without their nudge I wouldn’t have pulled this up the list. However, while the short free-flowing verses took a few pages to get used to, I found that by page five I was okay with them, and be a few pages later I no longer noticed the format. In the end, I felt it enhanced the book. Once again, since that’s just what I said after reading May B! I should really learn to trust the author, but some of us are slower on the up-tick. 😉
I also really loved how the main character, Ha, grew over the course of the story, one struggle at a time. She had my deepest sympathy in being uprooted, and her sorrow over leaving her beloved Papaya plant behind in Siagon when her and her family had to flee. Likewise, I laughed over her opinion that whoever came up with English should be bitten by a snake. The struggles she had as she learned it echoed the struggles I’ve seen in my sister-in-law, who is Russian. Truly, my hat is off to any non-native speaker who conquers this tongue. It was lovely to see Ha and her brothers each grow into their new home in America, and pull together in creatively overcoming their struggles. And her mom! If only we could all be like her when we grow up.
However, my favorite thing about the book might have been Ha’s incredible insight just before her family celebrates the new year here in America. She’d been bullied and suffered from a fair amount of teasing, mean at the best and frightening at its worst. Watching her go through it was painful, and it was with great relief that she slowly gained champions and found solutions. But, while the boy who was the main perpetrator never became nice or grew into a friend, he was also not unfairly treated. Because, very early in the book, Ha herself, back in Saigon and frustrated, was mean to her seat partner. Ha pinched the girl just to rid herself of her own nervousness or act out her frustration and temper. Admittedly, with the war waging on, rations, and her father missing, she had a great deal to be angry about. As the reader, I didn’t get hung up on it and knew she was simply a flawed human being–rather like the rest of us. It’s brilliant, however, when she later wonders if she is now being teased as part of some greater balance and in punishment for her own crimes and mean temper. Of course her mom gently smooths her concerns and Ha eventually makes friends with her classmates and gets the bully to leave her alone, but a subtle message the reader can conclude is that sometimes bullies aren’t horrible–they’re often kids, acting out in painful, mean ways under strain. Appropriately, the book was able to show us an intimate look into the world of war-torn Saigon, while making the world as a whole a bit smaller.
A lovely tale! But, no pets to speak off. Let’s see what Apricot-kitty thought of it:
I guess that sums up Apricot-kitty’s views of Memorial Day, eh? I hope you have a wonderful day, however you spend your it, and wish you a Marvelous Middle Grade Monday! For more reviews, spotlights, interviews and giveaways, stop by Shannon Messenger’s blog, and happy reading!