From 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, CAα(c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Emma has lived in Japan nearly all of her life and spoke Japanese before she spoke English. But when Emma’s mother develops breast cancer, her parents choose to move to Massachusetts for medical care, and Emma finds herself entering high school in a completely foreign world. With a little pushing from her grandmother, Emma becomes a volunteer poetry helper at a long-term care center. Another volunteer, a boy named Samnang, becomes Emma’s first American friend. A number of story lines emerge, but the fluid nature of this novel’s free verse allows these subplots to mesh together like a series of linked poems. Thompson beautifully conveys Emma’s Japanese sensibilities in the structure of the verses. For example, Emma often expresses herself through silence, conveyed through well-placed breaks. Interspersed throughout are poems that Emma finds, which Thompson references in an appendix. Like Ron Koertge’s Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (2003), the appeal of poetry slips easily into the flow of this story. Grades 7-10. --Diane Colson