Ha's story begins in Vietnam at her family's home. Through short free verse poems she tells of her family's rich traditions and the quiet times she enjoys with them. Yet, despite the peace and happiness Ha describes, the Vietnam War is raging in the background. Families are being torn apart, separated into North and South by the Communists. Ha's father is lost in the separation and the family hopes for his return every day.
As the war begins to move closer and closer to the family home, they must decide whether or not they will stay in Vietnam. They quickly decide to board a boat with the hopes of starting over in another country. After several excruciating days at sea in a crowded boat, the family arrives in America. There they wait for a sponsor family. The sponsor family brings them to Alabama, where the majority of Ha's story takes place. She must learn English, attend a new school, and adapt to the lifestyle that the family now has. Through the support of her family and a few close friends, Ha overcomes the grief of leaving Vietnam and overcomes several obstacles as she adjusts to her new home.
Inside Out & Back Again is based on the real life experiences of the author, Thanhha Lai. It is rich with imagery and provides opportunities to discuss empathy, friendship, and diversity. A book truly worthy of the 2011 National Book Award.