I guess I will start this review with a list, a list of things that encapsulate the majors of the book:
Longing, poetry, friendship, losing, gaining, friends here, friends there, tsunami, the Killing Fields, dance, migraines, poetry, becoming, new beginnings, bravery, helping, giving and taking, trust, attraction, love, Japan, parents, friends, language…so much in this book about Emma. Emma, born in Massachusetts, has lived in Japan since young childhood. This is where she belongs and feels at home…but Emma, her younger brother and her mother move back to Lowell Massachusetts when she is 16 so her mother can have the best care for her treatment of breast cancer. Her father is here then back to Japan but Emma must stay through the year to help her mother. She is not happy. But in this story of beginnings Emma meets people here who she comes to understand and feel closer to. She is afraid of losing her Japanese identity and her friends back in Tokyo. She begins having migraines. At her grandmother’s urging she begin volunteering at a long-term care center and meets Zena, a quadriplegic who must use a ‘board’ to make any contact. They write poetry together. They become friends. It is an eye-opening experience for Emma. She also meets Samnung, a fellow student from her school, who works with two elderly survivors of the Cambodian killing fields, helping them write poetry to express their lives. Samnung is also involved with the Cambodian dance troupe and even though it is not Japanese culture, it is an Asian culture that Emma longs for and she finds friendship there as well. This is a beautifully written story done in ‘poetry prose.’ The realness of all the characters comes out sparingly and honestly in the author’s writing. The author, Holly Thompson, is originally from Massachusetts but has been a longtime resident of Japan. I liked her character voices. So many times for teens (and adults) we are pulled between two places, two friends, two parents, two worlds and if you are lucky you realize that each has its place and time. All can be appreciated. Loved this book.
when the language outside
is not the language inside
and words are made of just 26 letters
not parts that tell stories…
The book cover on the right is Thompson’s book, Friendship through Fiction: An Anthology of Japanese Teen Stories. Holly’s website is http://www.hatbooks.com/ .