Mini Book Reviews: Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai and The Lottery Rose by Irene Hunt

Posted March 21, 2014 by Kara in book review, Lyn / 0 Comments

Publisher:  HarperCollins
Release Date:  January 2nd, 2013
Pages:  288
Genre:  Middle Grade – Historical Fiction
Source:  I own a copy via paperback.

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Summary from Leafmarks: No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.

For all the ten years of her life, Ha has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.

But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Ha and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Ha discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.

This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.

Review: I stayed away from free verse poetry for a majority of my life. Now, in my wizened old age, I have built a healthy relationship and have a new-found respect for the format.  My love for Thuy Trang spurred my interest in Vietnam. I’ve taken a great interest in the Vietnam War due to this pop culture fascination. Many of the customs and the culture ideals were familiar to me due to my past research into the Vietnam world. However, newcomers to the Vietnam culture will still be able to understand most of the events and the holidays in the book.  
Ha is the narrator of the story. Since this is free verse, the storytelling is told from her point of view. It is a very painful story of a young refugee from Vietnam. Uprooted from her home and sanctioned in not-too-friendly Southern USA. I was very touched by the realism and honest emotion of the story. I was disappointed by some of the missed opportunities by the novel, since the story does focus on bullying and racism.  However, the author wrote about her own experiences, weaving her own tale into the novel, so the novel takes a more realistic approach, instead of an all-around moral-of-the-story novel. 
It is easy to see why this was a Newbery honor book. This is a forthright novel discussing racism and war sanctions. 
Publisher:  Berkley
Release Date:  January 1st, 1976
Pages:  192
Genre:  Middle Grade – Contemporary
Source:  I own a copy via paperback.
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Description from Leafmarks:The Newbery Award winning author of Across Five Aprils and Up a Road Slowly presents the story of a young boy from a troubled family who learns what it means to love…

The Lottery Rose

Abused by his mother and her boyfriend, Georgie Burgess learns to hide his hurt. He withdraws into a safe and secret world of beautiful gardens filled with roses–just like those in the library book he treasures.

When Georgie wins a small rosebush in a grocery store lottery he gives it all the love and caring he’s never had. Georgie’s life begins to open up for him when the courts send him to a home for boys where he will be safe. Slowly, and not without pain, Georgie learns to give–and to receive–love…

Review: Older middle grade books usually age quite quickly.  While The Lottery Rose made some very excellent points, the story was straight-to-the-point and tended to overly generalize the “big mean world” of adults. Perhaps I was not the target audience for such a story. Hunt’s writing reflects sharing the emotional upheaval of ostracized and severely abused pre-teen boys. That last line might have stood out as a little harsh and unfeeling, but boiling down a major issue in our schools and in our homes to just plain meanness doesn’t educate the reader, but merely covers the facts with black-and-white coping mechanisms. 
As I have found with older books, expect some pain and heartbreak when you read this story. It is not for the faint of heart.  The era of the story also reflects a strong pro-Christian stance, so be prepared to guzzle down some of the God-juice.
I do appreciate that the main character, a boy named Georgie, interested in an atypical interest, gardening and flowers. Kudos for venturing off the gender-beatened path.
Overall, it was an interesting way to approach the subject of teacher-student bullying and child abuse, but the story could have attempted to dig deeper.  
Inside Out & Back Again: 3/5 Stars
The Lottery Rose: 3/5 Stars
Purchase Inside Out & Back Again from Amazon
Purchase The Lottery Rose from Amazon

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