Monday, January 23, 2012

Medal Monday

My friend, illustrator and storyteller extraordinaire, Mary Jo Scott, had no idea at the time, but she was handing me a National Book Award winner, and a Newbery Honor book. I'll read anything MJ recommends, so when she showed me INSIDE OUT AND BACK AGAIN by Thanhha Lai last summer, I went home and devoured it in one sitting.

The story and the writing are beautiful and poignant, but Thanhha Lai went so much further with her story. She pulled off what only the best of storytellers are able to do and made me (a middle-class, American-raised, mostly caucasian girl) identify with her main character, a Vietnamese refugee.

Maybe "identify" isn't really the best choice of words. The author made me remember my friend from high school, also a Vietnamese refugee. People treated her as if she was stupid and as if she didn't exist, because of her broken English and her second-hand clothing. But she ended up in my Physics class as my lab partner. I was working my tail off, trying to figure out the lab, and I so ignorantly discounted everything my lab partner was trying to contribute. She must have been getting frustrated, because I couldn't understand what she was trying to say. But she remained patient and polite.

It turned out that I was going about things completely wrong. Thank goodness I finally let her help me, because she truly saved us from failing the lab assignment. I can vividly remember our eyes meeting during that moment of realization! We couldn't stop laughing and we became friends after that. I still have the doll she gave me from Vietnam.

Oh, and it turned out she had lived in a French-speaking country briefly, after she fled Vietnam. So she was translating everything from Vietnamese --into French --and then into English.

Thanhha Lai: Congratulations on your well-deserved awards. And thank you for reminding us to read the beautifully written pages, and not just glance quickly at the cover.


Linda B said...

I've been reading more and more verse novels in the past year, so I have read this, one of the few that was given an award yesterday. I remember especially the escape & terror the mother must have felt when trying to save her children. The book is quite beautifully written, and I love the way you connected with a real story in your past. Taking time to know someone who is different from yourself is important, although we are quick to judge sometimes, aren't we?

Annie said...

Linda, that is so true!

Dave Amaditz said...

Annie. Your post made me want to pick up the book and read it. But it also made me want to know more about you and your high school friend. There's a story in there waiting to be told.
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