The Language Inside
By Holly Thompson
Release Date: May 14, 2013
Source: PublisherSummary: 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.
Emma has lived in Japan her entire life, so when her family has to move back to America because her mom has breast cancer, Emma is devastated. But her mother needs them, so she holds her head high and does the best she can. The worst part about leaving is not only that they miss their friends and an entirely different culture, but some of their friends were devastated by the tsunami that just hit Japan, destroying entire lives, so Emma feels like she's deserting her country at its greatest time of need. To keep herself busy, Emma volunteers at a care center to help a woman with locked-in syndrome write poetry, and that's where she meets Samnang, another volunteer helping out two older Cambodian men. Emma starts to really care about her life in America, so if the time came, would she choose to go back to Japan?
Wow, this book is just so complex for being a book written in verse. I'm not sure how I thought it would turn out, but the language was so powerful and beautiful and really easy to follow along. Emma has to deal with such heavy stuff, from her mom's cancer and Zena's locked-in syndrome to Samnang's patients who are survivors of the Cambodian genocide. Add on top of that the fact that she had to leave behind a country she loves so much for America, which has such a different way of life than Japan. Identity is a huge issue in her life and you just want Emma to be okay in the end and comfortable in her own skin.
The emotions in this book were amazing too. I felt like I was actually inside Emma's head, listening to how she felt about everything in such a fluid, beautiful way. This was a really quick read as well. While it's over 500 pages, I finished this in one day because it was so fast paced and the story was just too good to stop reading.
To read this book, you definitely have to be open minded about reading a novel in verse and prepared for an emotional, serious story. Once you start it, though, you'll be pulled into to a whirlwind of emotions and you won't want to put it down.