A nuanced novel in verse that explores identity in a multicultural world.
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.
“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
“[Emma] 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.”—School Library Journal, Starred
“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.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Thompson, working in a free-verse style that becomes a seamless piece of a world imbued with poetry, weaves [the plot strands] 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.”—Publisher’s Weekly
“Thompson keeps the many plot elements cohesive, and the vivid imagery in the lyrical free verse lends immediacy to Emma’s turbulent feelings. Readers will finish the book knowing that, like Zena, the Cambodian refugees, and the tsunami victims, Emma has the strength to ‘a hundred times fall down / a hundred and one times get up.’”—The Horn Book Magazine
HOLLY THOMPSON grew up in New England. She earned a BA in biology from Mount Holyoke College and an MA in English with a concentration in creative writing from New York University. A longtime resident of Japan, she teaches creative writing at Yokohama City University. Her previous young adult novel, is Orchards.