Characters, Themes, and Quotes

Main Characters
Additional Characters
Central Themes


  • Ha – Ha is the main protagonist of the novel who moves from Vietnam to Alabama during the Vietnam War after the fall of Saigon. The reader follows her story as she misses her papaya tree from Vietnam, experiences bullying in her new school, and learns and struggles with learning the English language.


  • Brother Vu "Vu Lee" – One of Ha's three brothers who is nicknamed "Vu Lee" after Bruce Lee for his fighting skills. He aids Ha is facing her bullies throughout the novel.


  • Miss Washington – Miss Washington is Ha's next door neighbor who helps her learn English. She is, also, Ha's friend, and listens to Ha talk about being bullied. Miss Washington makes Ha an American lunch so she will not be embarrassed to eat it in front of her classmates. She, also, gives Ha dried papaya at the end of the novel where we learn that it is 'not the same, but not bad.'



  • "Our Cowboy" – Ha calls him this because he is a man that wears outfits that resemble a cowboy; he sponsors Ha's family to be able to come to Alabama.


  • Pam "Pem" – One of Ha's friends. 


  • Stephen "Ssssi-Ti-Van" – One of Ha's friends.


  • Ha's Mother– Ha's mother waits and prays every day for her husband, Ha's father, to return from being a prisoner of war. She encourages everyone to learn the English language and get a proper education, like going to college.



  • AssimilationThroughout the novel, Ha struggles with assimilating to America’s culture and language. She misses her papaya tree in Vietnam, gets bullied for being new and Asian, and struggles to learn English. Towards the end, Miss Washington gives her dehydrated papaya, which Ha declares as “not the same, but not bad.” Ha comes to this realization that things in America are not the same, but not as bad as she thought they would be, especially when they celebrate the holiday Tet in America instead of being in Vietnam.
  • BullyingWhen Ha arrives at her school in Alabama, she deals with approaching bullies and racism. Her classmates bully her for her name, the way she looks, and where she comes from. They make fun of her name by laughing at her since her name is ‘Ha,’ a ‘pink boy,’ one of Ha’s classmates that bullies her the most, pulls her arm hair, promises to stomp on her chest, and throws rocks at her. Throughout the time she is being bullied, we see the negative effects it is having on Ha as she cries and exclaims that she hates everyone.


  • Education/Language Barrier – LHa wrestles with the English language throughout the novel. Ha repetitively states how she despises the English language and has difficulty learning it with Miss Washington and at school. She finally tells the reader that she appreciates math the most because it seems to be a universal language for her and everyone. Ha’s mother stresses the importance of learning English and getting a good education and going to college. The reader discovers in the end that all of Ha’s brothers end up learning a trade and/or going off to college.



Ha's Mother:


Oh, my daughter,

at times you have to fight,

but preferably

not with your fists. ― Inside Out & Back Again, pg. 216



Ha's Mother:


People share

when they know

they have escaped hunger.

Shouldn't people share

because there is hunger? ― Inside Out & Back Again, pg. 93





Whoever  invented English

should have learned

to spell.― Inside Out & Back Again, pg. 177





Our Lives

will twist and twist,

intermingling the old and the new

until it doesn't matter

which is which. ― Inside Out & Back Again, pg. 257





I truly learn

to fly-kick,

not to kick anyone

so much as

to fly. ― Inside Out & Back Again, pg. 260








Inside Out and Back Again’s Homepage

Sabrina Pierce 2020

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