Alexander Joy has stated “The verse-novel foregrounds the fact that the narration is voiced” (Alexander 281), and the patchy arrangement of sentences in Inside Out and Back Again adds personal tone and attitude to plots. The clipped sentences are the glamour of verse novel: simple but carry a great amount of jocundity, blessedness, hope or despair.
Everyone must smile
no matter how we feel. (Lai 13)
The pause between the two short sentences leaves a sign in the break of talk, and reinforces the significance of the feeling while smiling. Also, it leaves emotional setting for further explanation about kid’s feeling toward war and immigration. According to Alexander, “It (the verse novel) is a form capable of intensity as it takes the reader into the speaker’s mind and emotions” (Alexander 281), so the punctuation may deepen reader’s emotion toward previous plot, or completely twist the meaning.
I chew each grain
s-l-o-w-l-y. (Lai 52)
The punctuation influences reader’s emotion that the short verse is “the expression of feelings” (Alexander 281). The break down of verse arouses the image of chewing slowly and show the value of food. The pause makes the motion become slower and slower that lead to the emotion of despair.
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon
over peacetime in Alabama. (Lai 88)
Inside Out and Back Again is Hà’s immigration diary recording his adaptation to new society, language and culture, so the the first-person narration of a kid perspective is “powerful and moving” (Alexander 271). The language is straightforward, and express his strong sense belonging to his motherland.
Classmate # 2 Kinah Moon:
The verse novel that stuck out the most to me is “The Red Pencil” because it tells a great story in the view of 12 year old girl, Amira, as she grew up in a village surrounded by war. One scene that I’d really like to highlight, is the one when Amira lost her voice from being traumatized and was given the red pencil, hence the name of the book. This scene represents how she was given her voice back and given a chance to have an education. In this time, boys and girls didn’t have equal rights to go to school so having this red pencil was very significant for Amira. As Alexander says, “The great majority of verse-novels are first-person narratives; they are a modern means of rendering soliloquy or dramatic monologue” (271). This scene correlates to this because the entire book was from the viewpoint of Amira and how she felt during these times of war and a lack of education. Another scene would be the times where she was able to still tell the story to her readers, but it would be a discussion with herself in her mind. I like how Alexander mentions that “a succession of scenes are presented to the visual imagination with the voice-over heard simultaneously in the mind” (271). Moments like these are very important to verse-novels because it allows the readers to “experience the words as they read” (271). Finally, the last scene would be the arrival of the Janjaweed militants and the death of most of the village, which forces her remaining family to live in a refugee camp in Kalma. This scene is important because it shows the way the author could tell this story in great detail and help illustrate to the reader what was going on. This part definitely shows what Alexander meant by “She can shape the rhythm, position the line-break so as to add emphasis, vary the pace through the line-length, or borrow and exploit poetic devices such as repetition, caesura and enjambment” (271). This scene shows the many trials and tribulations those in war had to go through, but also shows how the structure of the verse-novel can tell its stories. The three authors of these books chose verse narratives to best tell their stories because this genre provides an unique insight to really capture the story behind this novel, which also helps with the flow and rhythm of the novel. Verse novels are special because the writing is “poetic in its use of imagery, personification and alliteration”, which gives the ability to better help communicate the emotions and feelings of the book and characters versus just having blocks of text, like in other genres of books. (Alexander 277). It also allows readers to draw more conclusions and allows for more imagination while reading the book. One can think more critically and find more meanings about the book versus a clear, cut story.
Alexander, Joy. The Verse-Novel: A New Genre. Children’s Literature in Education. Vol. 36, no. 3. pp. 269-83.
Pinkney, Andrea Davis, and Shane Evans. The Red Pencil. Little, Brown and Company, 2014.
Classmate # 3 Dongyu Chen:
Inside Out and Back Again” is a verse novel about a girl named Kim Hà started her life journey in United States after being forced to leave her home because of the Vietnam War.
Lai poignantly and artistically brought emotion, both painful and joyful, straight from the page and into the senses. “Maybe soldiers will no longer / patrol our neighborhood, maybe The whistles / that tell Mother to push us under the bed / will stop screening” (Lai 21). The safe and sound life of Kim in Vietnam was lively portrayed in details. But suddenly, the image twist inside out as “the war is coming closer to home” (Lai 21). Lai recounted her family’s escape through the voice of Kim Hà. “She can shape the rhythm, position the line-break so as to add emphasis and vary the pace through the line-length” (Alexander 271). The tension between the lines and blanks between words pushed readers to relive the moments. “I put one leg in front of the other / faster faster / but not fast enough / to not hear them scream / Boo-Da, Boo-Da” (Lai 67). Through the sound, I experienced the embarrassed feelings with Kim. The emotions was strongly delivered and a simultaneous atmosphere was built around readers. “Writers find this genre to be a suitable medium for portraying a teenage character experiencing the angst of adolescence” (Alexander 274). Kim Hà was a teenager who was born in wartime and struggled with bullying in a strange culture. “Pink Boy / has gotten his sixth-grade cousin, to agree / to beat me up / when we come back / Monday” (Lai 93). Only two words in one line; Kim Hà expressed her anxiety and fear explicitly, but I felt irony in her tone. She pushed herself to conquer the angst over Pink Boy and armed herself with a firm attitude to treat menace as rumors. The verse novel portrayed a teenager’ life as exactly what it should be: ambivalent, impulsive, rebellious, and sensitive.
The structure of fragmented sentences and emphasis on specific words makes verse novel an elastic narrative in children’s literature. People who lived in multicultural or inharmonious time, for example, women in color, would feel sympathetic. “They are able to incorporate a range of outlooks, and to provide layers of understanding” (Alexander 272). Verse novel was straight-forward with concise words but the contradiction would be interpreted differently by readers.
Verse novel distills experience into its most elemental form. It drips with love, scorn, hope, desperation, faith and understanding. Feeling the confusion of a small child in lines brings a childlike dimension of understanding.
Classmate # 4: Francis Flynn
The verse-novel that I chose to write about is Inside Out and Back Again. In “The Verse-Novel: A New Genre” Joy Alexander states that verse-novels are usually aimed at a teenage audience. The first scene I want to address is from Kim Ha. This scene paints the picture of a little sister being bullied by her older brothers, and addresses how she deals with the situation. I think that this scene can be directly applicable to a young teenage girl reading the book because she may be able to place herself in the shoes of the character. The second scene I would like to address is from Papaya Tree. This scene again seems to be from the point of view from a little sister whose brother is in college. The scene discusses troubles with being younger and shorter than a sibling, and how they may be able to see and reach things that you cannot. The further I read into this book I can’t help but imagine the narrator of almost every scene being a teenaged or adolescent girl. This fact further confirms the claim made by Joy Alexander that the genre is designed for a teenaged audience. Another major aspect of verse-novels that Alexander points out is that they are a means of creating an intimate conversational narration in this day of excessive communication behind screens. The final scene I want to discuss is from TV News. In this scene I feel as though I am involved in a very private event of the discovery that the subject’s father was captured in war. This solidifies the idea that verse-novels make you feel as though you may be eavesdropping on a conversation, which was discussed by Joy Alexander.
I believe that these authors used verse-novels to tell their stories because it allows the reader to feel as though they are having a more intimate experience with the characters in the novel. This could be desirable for an author because they story that he or she is telling may be better suited for an intimate reader experience.
Classmate # 5: Laura Wilson
Within the last 10 years, the verse-novel has gained popularity throughout the world as an expression of a narrative through non-rhyming free verse. A verse-novel is comprised of short sections that are built “around a single perspective or thought or voice or incident” (Alexander 270). Authors generally blur genres, often with fiction, creating a sense of “visual imagination” (271) for the reader. The authors “craft the verse as though orchestrating it for reading aloud” (270-271).
This “voice-over” is achieved through many different methods. For example, emotion and the meaning of the text can be shown through italics, repetition, capital letters and line breaks. This strategy is seen in the verse-novel Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. On page 6, the importance of certain statements is shown through italics. The main character, Hà, is teased by her brothers constantly. Her mother describes that the brothers do that because “they adore [her]”. Since that statement is written in italics, the reader slows down in order to take in the statement and empathizes with Hà.
Another characteristic about verse-novels is how historical events are a commonly the subject matter. The verse-novel Inside Out and Back Again describes a refugee’s experience after fleeing Vietnam and immigrating to the United States. You follow along with Hà’s dilemmas and struggles, experiencing her journey first hand. The reader truly gets a sense of the feelings of the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War throughout the novel. On page 18, the current news is shared with Hà’s class. Described is how close the Communists are to Vietnam’s capital and the impacts of the economy since the American soldiers left. The line breaks emphasize the emotion that the characters are feeling. It is written almost as if you are sitting in that classroom with Hà.
Lastly, verse-novels are written as a compilation of separate sections. Yet, those sections continue to build upon one another to create the overall story. While each section can stand alone, the novel flows if the sections build upon one another. Each section is titled, giving the reader a sense of what the subject matter is for that specific poem. This overarching theme is seen in the verse-novel Inside Out and Back Again. Without the titles, the reader would be left with a sense of ambiguity.
In conclusion, the verse-novel is a great outlet for the authors to share their insight and experiences with the readers. This style of writing makes the reader feel as if they are there, going through the same events and struggles as the characters.
Alexander, Joy. “The Verse-Novel: A New Genre.” Children’s Literature in Education, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 269-83.
Lai, Thanhha. Inside Out and Back Again. HarperCollins Publishers, 2011.