The Language Inside

The Language Inside

4.0 2
by Holly Thompson

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   Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it's the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma's family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with Emma's grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

   Emma feels out of place in the United States.She begins to have migraines, and

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   Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it's the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma's family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with Emma's grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.

   Emma feels out of place in the United States.She begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother's urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena's poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return home early to Japan.

Editorial Reviews

School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Emma, a 15-year-old American raised in Japan, feels adrift when she is transplanted to her grandmother's home in Massachusetts so her mother can undergo breast-cancer treatment. Though she is not Asian, she considers Japan her home. But to her surprise, she starts putting down roots in her new home by volunteering at a long-term care center and navigating a tentative relationship with another volunteer, a Cambodian American boy named Samnang. Emma's story weaves together a variety of disparate topics, including reverse culture shock, cancer, the Cambodian refugee experience, dance, volunteerism, and teen alcoholism. The number of themes could seem overwhelming, but is made manageable by the spare beauty and clarity of free verse. The format flows naturally from the plot, as Emma is a poet herself, and her volunteer service involves helping a stroke victim cope through the exercise of writing poetry. Today's teens, said to volunteer at a higher rate than previous generations, will see themselves in Emma as she looks beyond herself to understand and help others even while grappling with her own concerns. She is driven to help in the aftermath of the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and readers will cheer her on as she faces the challenge of contributing to relief efforts from a distance. Her longing for Japan will also resonate with those familiar with the country and its culture, as Thompson captures perfectly the feeling of belonging elsewhere. A sensitive and compelling read that will inspire teens to contemplate how they can make a difference.—Allison Tran, Mission Viejo Library, CA
Publishers Weekly
Raised in Japan, Emma Karas feels more Japanese than American, and her family’s move to a town outside Lowell, Mass., has left her displaced. Her father’s away working, her grandmother cooks bland American food, and her mother’s about to have surgery for breast cancer, which is why they’re there in the first place. Fifteen-year-old Emma feels guilty for leaving Japan so soon after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and with all of this stress, she’s started having migraines. Thompson lives in Japan, and her last book, Orchards, also dealt with cross-cultural complexities. At first, all the strands seem like too much: Emma also volunteers at a long-term care center, helping a woman with locked-in syndrome write poetry, and befriends half-Cambodian Samnang, a fellow volunteer. But Thompson, working in a free-verse style that becomes a seamless piece of a world imbued with poetry, weaves them together skillfully. The result is a touching portrait of Emma working through loss and opportunity as Lowell becomes not just “not-Japan,” but the site of new connections and a possible romance. Ages 12–up. Agent: Jamie Weiss Chilton, Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (May)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, School Library Journal, April 2013:
“A sensitive and compelling read that will inspire teens to contemplate how they can make a difference.”

“With beautiful language and deep sensitivity, Holly Thompson explores the courage it takes to find your own voice.” —Patricia McCormick, author of National Book Award finalist Never Fall Down
“Thompson’s eloquent novel speaks to us, carrying us along with Emma as she embarks on a life-altering journey from Japan to America. But it’s Emma’s inner journey that’s the true adventure—pulsing with pain and passion, with humor, heart, and hope.” —Sonya Sones, author of What My Mother Doesn’t Know and To Be Perfectly Honest

Children's Literature - Lois Rubin Gross
Emma Karas, a Caucasian American raised in Japan, considers herself Japanese. When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer and the family must return to the U.S., Emma feels displaced from her home, especially as the move coincides with the Japanese earthquake and tsunami that devastates part of the country. Living in New England with her paternal grandmother, Emma longs for the familiarity of Japanese food, culture and friends. However, a volunteer job in a rehabilitation center and a chance meeting with a Cambodian American boy gives her reason to acclimate. Both young people are charged with creating poetry. However, Samsang, a complex Cambodian boy, also helps refugees from Pol Pot's regime deal with survivor's guilt. This is a remarkable, visually arresting book. Thompson writes in free verse because Emma and the stroke victim she aids write poetry, one letter at a time, and Emma journals her own poems. The format of the book is evocative in a way that I have seldom encountered with edged page designs and origami cranes decorating the pages. As a migraine sufferer, Emma tells us about her pain, but Holly Thompson shows us her symptoms, the aura and partial blindness that so many migraine sufferers know, with the rearrangement of words and empty spaces. It is an astonishingly accurate visual depiction of what a migraine feels like. This is a book full of teachable moments and themes: displacement, survivors' guilt, identity, loyalty, illness, friendship, and family. The ability of Zena, the stroke survivor, to express her inner turmoil through poetry, will inspire young readers to try their hand at their own poems. This is a story that belongs in that rare collection of cross-over books because of the elevated quality of the writing and the masterful handling of difficult themes. Reviewer: Lois Rubin Gross
Kirkus Reviews
In flowing free-verse poems, a 15-year-old white American girl who grew up in Japan recounts a kaleidoscope of devastations, recoveries and irreparable damage--ranging from the geopolitical to the personal. Emma's lived in Japan since infancy. When her family moves to Massachusetts for her mother's breast-cancer treatment, Emma starts getting migraines. She hates "abandoning Japan" just months after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami; she wants to continue helping her friend Madoka's relatives shovel sludge from their drowned houses and wait for word of a missing aunt. Japan's "endless stretches of mangled homes / the tangled mountains of debris / and all the broken towns and families" feel like Emma's own. In Massachusetts, "I don't know when to say what / I don't know if something's funny or not." She writes a poem: "Lonely is / when the language outside / isn't the language inside." As Emma volunteers, helping a physically disabled adult write poetry, and meets a multigenerational Cambodian community with Khmer Rouge history, Thompson nimbly braids political tragedy, natural disaster, PTSD, connections among families, and a cautious, quiet romance into an elegant whole. This is an artistic picture of devastation, fragility, bonds and choices; here's hoping some Tohoku tsunami books from a Japanese perspective will join it. (poetry list, recommended resources) (Fiction. 14 & up)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Sold by:
Random House
File size:
4 MB
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

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