Inside Out & back Again THANNHA LAI

1975: Year of the Cat

This Chapter explains how that year is Tet. The day everybody gains a year during Tet. The main character Ha(Kim Ha) is disappointed when her mother tells her she shall not tap her big toe on the floor first next morning because she is a female. Ha wakes up first thing in the morning and taps her big toe on the tile floor without any one of her brothers or her mother knowing.

Inside Out

The chapter explains how Ha's mother visits a fortune teller every year. This year The Teller of Fate(fortune teller) predicts that their lives will be twisted inside out. Ha thinks this is a good turn out. "Maybe soldiers will no loner patrol our neighborhood, maybe I can jump rope after dark, maybe the whistles that tell mother to push us under the bed will stop screeching. Except Ha heard in the playground that the "bánh chưng" (chung cake) that is only eaten during Tet will be smeared in blood. Ha says "The war is coming closer to home.

Kim Ha

Ha explains how she gets upset when her brothers call her "Ha Ya" and make her do an impression of Bruce Lee. She also gets upset when her brothers call her "Mothers' Tail" because she is always in her mothers' shadow. She reminds her brother of a Baby Hippopotamus because when she was small she was as red and fat as one.

Papaya Tree

Ha Has vowed to be the first to wake to ever witness the Papaya trees' ripening. She explains how her beautiful tree grew from her just flicking the seed into the ground.

Ti-Ti Waves Good-bye

Has' best-friend TiTi is leaving Saigon and moving to Vũng Tàu where the rich go to flee Vietnam. TiTi is sad that her and her family are leaving she shoves a tin of flower seeds into Has' hand sniffling into her pink blouse crying hard. TiTi waves good-bye as she gets into her rabbit-shaped car. Ha would've been crying and standing there with nothing to do if her brother Khoi hadn't taken her hand.

missing in action

When Ha was almost one, nine years ago, her father left home on a navy mission. "He was captured on Route 1, an hour south of the city by moped. Every Tet mother displays father's portrait, but she cannot stand looking at it because he is gone. Father looked so happy and peaceful in the portrait.

Mothers' Days

Mother work as a secretary in a Navy Office. At night every night she stays up late designing and cutting baby clothing to give to seamstresses. On weekends she would take Ha to the market so she can sell the clothing and collect on last week's goods. A couple of years ago she made enough to consider buying a car, but didn't. No one really buys the clothing anymore because they can barely afford food.


Brother Khoi gets mad at his mother because she takes the hen's eggs. Bother Khoi never eats his egg when it's his turn to eat it, instead he puts it under his lamp in hope of a chick. Ha would help but she likes the eggs.

Current News

Every Friday in one of Ha's classes her class will talk about current news, like how the war is coming closer, or how the bombs from the night before are distant, and how much the prices have gone up. The teacher says Fridays will now be for happy news.

Feel Smart

When Mother allows Ha to buy the necessities, she buys a bit less of each thing so she has money left over to buy treats for herself to eat. Except that everything is getting more expensive. Ha feels smart because no one knows that she buys less so she can afford her treats.

TWO More Papayas

Ha sees her two Papayas first and is excited. She tells how the papayas looked like two little greens thumbs and how they will grow into sweet yellow-delights.

Unknown Father

Ha doesn't know much about her father except the things her mother slips out. Ha remembers how her father hate the afternoon sun, the color brown, and cold rice. But Ha also remembers her father loved stewed eels, pastries, and his children of course.

tv news

Ha's Brother Quang is running home screaming and turns on the TV. The News was explaining how the presidential palace was bombed and how a pilot was working as a spy for the communists for years. Ha wondered "Father was captured by the communists so why would anyone choose their side?"


Ha describes how it's her birthday and how mother usually gives her roasted chicken, dry-bamboo soup, and all-she-can-eat pudding but this year her mother could have only managed banana tapioca and her favorite black sesame seed candy. Except her mother makes it all up with one wish.

Birthday Wishes

Ha is describing how she wishes to be able to go outside like the boy and let the sun darken her skin and scars grid her knees, or let her hair grow and lose her chubby cheeks or not get angry no matter what her brothers say. Ha has plenty of wishes there are just so much a girl can wish for. Ha misses her father and wishes her father would show up in her classroom extending his hand for hers.

A day downtown

Ha explains how every year the president has like a meet and greet and everyone goes just because they give out free food, rice, sugar, and small jugs of vegetable oil. Ha's' mother doesn't believe anything the president says because she just doesn't stand for him.

Twisting Twisting

Ha is explaining how her mothers brows twist like clothing being wrung dry because there is not going to be enough rice to last till payday.

Closed too soon

This chapter explains hw the war affects everyday things, and now Has' school is closing too soon. Ha has been being mean to the girls she shares desks with because she is mad that the school is closing. The girls'(Ha and the girl she shares desks with) mothers are friends and Ha knows she'll tell on her because she always does.


This chapter is extremely short and it's just Ha talking about her two small but promising papayas.

Bridge to the sea

Uncle Son visits the family. He was Hà's father's best friend and still kind of watches out for them; he tells her mother that they need to escape and that there are navy ships that will take them away. Hà's house is right near the shipyard so they won't have to go through the navy check point, which is good news.

Should we?

This chapter explains how they are asking themselves questions of all the possibilities and/or risks of leaving Saigon. For example "What if father comes home and sees his family gone?" Most of the brothers don't want want to leave like scrambling rats, without dignity, without honor.


This chapter is just about how Ha and brother Khoi agreed to "No matter what mother decides we are not to leave you to protect your papaya and me your chick.

Quiet decision

Ha is helping her mother peel sweet potatoes to stretch the rice and Ha has finished peeling the potatoes and is getting ready to cut it and she only cuts a sliver and realizes her mother starts to tear up. Her mother starts to tear up because she feels like Ha and her siblings shouldn't have to worry about how much of a potato she needs to cut.

early monsoon

They as in the town is pretending that the monsoon came early. The chapter is extremely short.

president Resigns

The president is resigning. It is all over the television. He says he will no longer be their president, but he will not leave their country. Has' mother believes nothing he says.

Watch over us

Uncle Son tells Hà's mother to keep the navy ship a secret, otherwise everyone will storm the ship and they won't get on board; the ship is only for navy families. Hà's mother tells her that her father watches over them all the time and that they have a plan to find each other if the war separates them.

crisscrossed packs

Hà's mother sews backpacks for them each to carry the essentials with them when they leave. Brother Khoi hints that he isn't coming, so Hà's mother tricks him into reconsidering by telling him they will stick together—so if he doesn't go, none of them will. Brother Khoi cannot stand letting people down, so he agrees to go.


The packs are small and can only fit in the most important clothes, a little rice, and one thing they choose to bring. Hà picks her doll.

left behind

They must leave most of what they own, and Hà looks around at all these things, remembering the significance of them: glasses, a hammock where she naps, report cards, and photos. Her mother picks ten photos to take and burns the rest so there isn't evidence that could get them into trouble.

wet and crying

A papaya is nearly ripe but they don't want to let Communists eat it, so Hà's brother cuts it early for them all to eat.

sour backs

A papaya is nearly ripe but they don't want to let Communists eat it, so Hà's brother cuts it early for them all to eat.

one mat each

Once on the ship, so many people are crammed into every space that Hà's family only gets one little mat to squeeze together upon; they will not even be able to lie down. The boat is so full that it could sink, but no one wants to be "that guy" that turns down a family wanting to escape, either.

in the dark

Uncle Son catches a rumor about the next ship over being better in all ways, so they get off their ship to check it out. So many people flood the new ship, though, that they quickly rush back to their spot on the one mat, finding that the ship is now emptier thanks to that rumor.

Saigon is gone

On the ship, everyone must stay below; the people are scared and Hà's mother is sick from rocking in the ship. Then a pilot shows up and tells them that communists have stormed the presidential palace and that their home is now gone

Part II

At Sea


On the ship, everyone must stay below; the people are scared and Hà's mother is sick from rocking in the ship. Then a pilot shows up and tells them that communists have stormed the presidential palace and that their home is now gone


Everyone is starving. Hà slowly chews on her last little moldy rice cake, smelling but not seeing the food others are eating, but will not share.


Three days later, the refugees are allowed to have a little fresh rice every day. Hà thinks it tastes so good, because she is so starved, that she recalls the taste of papaya.


To deal with the boredom of sitting on a ship, Hà's mother makes her kids study or exercise. Brother Quang teaches himself English and confides in Hà, when no one is around, that he's been thinking about how awful it feels to abandon his country and now drop down in class in his new home. Hà gets bored writing and just draws pictures of food she misses.

Once knew

Regular life is now a distant memory for Hà, and makes her think living was just a dream.

brother khoi's secret

There is no denying that something is wrong with Brother Khoi, who stinks a little too much. As it turns out, he has been keeping the dead chick in his pocket and doesn't want to give it up.

Last respects

After the captain lowers the now obsolete South Vietnam flag, some people get really upset and commit suicide. But Hà can't understand their pain. She does understand her brother Khoi's, though, so she takes his dead chick and wraps it up in her doll and tosses them out to sea. It's a super sweet gesture, but she also regrets not having her doll.

one engine

On the ship, one of the engines goes out, and Hà's mother is frightened because their punishment for trying to escape will be horrible if they are caught by Communists. The ship goes forward, but rations are cut dangerously low because the boat moves so slowly.

the moon

Out on the deck at night, Hà and her mother look up at the moon while others wash and pee, thinking that maybe her father is looking up at the same moon. Hà feels badly that she hasn't thought about him.

a kiss

One day, another ship pulls up close to the refugee ship Hà is aboard, and while the ships "kiss," they transfer food and water from the American ship; everyone's spirit's lift. They are safe.

golden fuzz

Finally Hà and her family get to board a motorboat to an island. A white sailor helps them into the boat, and when Hà sees his blonde arm hair that looks like gold, she snags one from his arm, which gets her into trouble with her family, though the man just laughs it off.

tent city

The island they stay on is Guam, and there are other refugees already there. The canned food they are given to eat is disgusting to them, so they only eat the canned fruit.

life in waiting

Just like anywhere, people need a routine to cope with difficulty, so on the island, everyone practices English and watches Western movies. Brother Vu (the one who loves Bruce Lee) is surrounded by girls who like to watch him break wood.

nuoc mam

Fish sauce saves the day—because it is a staple (like ketchup in the U. S.), they put it in and on everything. Hà even drinks a sip once, and doesn't care at all that it makes her breath stink.

Amethyst ring

In order to buy things they need, Hà's mom wants to sell the ring that her husband bought her in America. Hà's brothers all say no, though, and that the stuff they'd get in return for it isn't as valuable as love.


Big decision time: Hà's mother must choose where they are going to go and turns down Uncle Son's offer to join them in Canada (because she thinks his wife would be upset about it for some reason). When a man standing in line behind her tells her that there are more opportunities in America, she chooses

Another tent city

In Florida, Hà's family camps out for a long time. They cannot leave until an American family volunteers to take care of them, and their family is too big to be easily taken in. Hà doesn't mind, though, because she enjoys swimming and running around in Florida. Finally they learn that they should have written down that they are Christian on their application form, so they do.


Right away, a man comes looking for a boy to help him in his car shop. He only wants to take one young man with him, but Hà's mother cries and stubbornly won't let Brother Quang go without all of them. And so the Alabama man takes them all

our cowboy

The sponsor they get looks just like an American cowboy, and Hà likes him right away, imagining what he'll be like.

Part iii

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