It’s time for another session of book reviews! I have to say that of all the various posts that I do here on the blog, the book review postings are probably my favorite out of all the posts. I enjoy reading through a book or two and then writing about them afterwards. But they can also be the most challenging of the posts because I can’t always remember everything that happens in the story and oftentimes, will leave out details that I was unclear on or unsure about. This would be less likely to happen if I were to just focus on only one book at a time I guess. But then, it would take me longer to get to all of the books that I wish to read, now wouldn’t it? 😉
So, while you try and figure out that little paradox, let’s move on to the reviews.
Sadly, the books that I wanted to review today are only about a third of the way read so far, so they’ll most likely be reviewed next month. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have something to present for this month. One’s a children’s novel and the other is a teen graphic novel. So with that all said and done, let’s get to it!
My Vietnamese readers may find this first book pretty interesting.
It’s called Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. It tells the story of a young Vietnamese girl named Ha, who travels with her mother and her three older brothers from Saigon, Vietnam, to the state of Alabama in the US during the 1970s, in order to escape the war that’s currently taking place in her country. We learn of Ha’s struggles in learning how to adjust to American life, which includes, learning English, going to school (which is segregated), attending church and dealing with bullying at school. Ha’s main antagonist, whom she simply calls, “Pink boy”, makes her experience in school an even greater challenge by calling her names, like “pancake face” and shouting “Buddha” at her in a mocking tone, which the author shows by writing it like this: “Boo-Da”. As you read through the story (or listen to it in my case), you can’t help but feel for Ha and how she must put up with “pink boy’s” constant taunting, often rallying many of the other kids around him to do the same thing to her. Ha is bullied by having her arm hair pulled by some of the other kids. She is even reduced to eating her lunch in the bathroom stalls during lunchtime at school as she can’t deal with all of the noise and the laughter in the school’s cafeteria, which I can clearly understand that. I hated lunchtime at school for several reasons, but the loud cacophony of the cafeteria was one of the major reasons for this.
But all is not bad for Ha, as she learns more about American life. She becomes friends with two students, Pam (which she pronounces as “Pem”) and Steven (which she pronounces “SSsi-Ti-Van”), as well as two teachers at school, in which she confides in concerning the bullying. And towards the end, Ha finally stands up to “pink boy” (good for her!) and he finally leaves her alone.
And I also like how she describes her first time trying fried chicken (assumed to be KFC, as she said that her family’s host brought them chicken in a paper bucket, which is one of KFC’s main trademarks, after Colonel Sanders of course) and how she didn’t like it.
This was a good story. It speaks about a sort of hope, as Ha often speaks about her missing father, whom she hints is in the Navy fighting in the war, as well as a hope of finding a better life in America. There’s a hint of sadness to the story also. A sadness that goes beyond the bullying and struggle to learn English. It has the same feel as another book that I read a while back, called The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness by Shin Kyung‑Sook. It’s not a story where you find adventure, comedic conversations or silly scenarios that will keep you laughing well into next week, but a story of silent hope and happiness for a young girl wanting to fit into the American lifestyle and have friends.
So I give Inside Out & Back Again, a 4 out of 5. Like I said, it was a good story, and I enjoyed listening to it (the reader did a superb job of telling Ha’s story), but it was a little hard to follow. It’s very short (only 2 discs in the audio version, the shortest audiobook I think I’ve ever listened to) and written in the form of a diary/journal. I had to listen to it several times before fully grasping what was happening to Ha and fully connecting her story with that of the author’s, which she based from her own experience growing up in the 1970s. But it was still good and I can’t wait to read Ms. Lai’s second book, called Listen, Slowly.
My second book for this session is one that I mentioned before.
It’s Shoulder-A-Coffin Kuro by Satoka Kiyuduki, a graphic novel series that shows the adventures of a girl named “Kuro” (her real name is never revealed), her bat friend, Sen, and two little “cat” girls, Nijuku and Sanju. Kuro, as she calls herself due to the fact that she wears black (“kuro” means “black” in Japanese), is on a journey to find a witch that has cursed her body and is forced to wear black unless she finds the witch and breaks the curse. Though not directly stated how exactly her body is cursed, certain scenarios in volume 1 indicate that she is different from that of ordinary people. This is seen early on, shortly after Kuro finds the cat sisters, Nijuku and Sanju, who have special abilities, one of which is the ability to both absorb and distribute colors from other objects that they touch. Nijuku tries to do this to Kuro and nearly turns all black in the process. Kuro kindly explains to them that no matter what colors they try to give to her, it will always come out black.
Another indication of Kuro’s condition is when the twins invite her to play in a nearby pond with them and she immediately declines, to which her friend, Sen, jokes that she will melt (presumably into an ink puddle), but is not 100% clear on how true this really is.
Kuro also wears bandages under her clothes and must change them from time to time, as doing this seems to slow down whatever condition she has from the curse.
The four travelers meet some interesting characters on their travels, which include, but are not limited to, a wondering traveler (who likes to try and scam people for money), a fibbing old man who tells “tall tails”, two young lovers that are united, thanks to Kuro, and a good “witch” that can “read” Kuro’s true self, saying to her that she believes that someone “forced” the black that Kuro wears on her and that it’s not her true color; her true color being tainted by the color black. Funny little “fun fact” about this is that someone actually said something similar to this to me once, I’m guessing because I wear black all of the time, ha. 🙂
While my main focus of the book reviews is not to present graphic novels, I will make an exception with this one as I really like it. Besides, it’s my blog so I make the call as to what books I want to present on it. 😉 I hope to have volume 2 up soon, whenever I finish it.
Until next time!