In this middle grade novel set in Japan 2001, eleven-year-old bi-cultural Ema hopes to find peace in her relationships at home, with a bully at school, and within herself. Please read the reviews included here for more details about the plot.
Bank Street College of Education The Best Children's Books of the Year
Freeman Book Award The National Consortium for Teaching about Asia
Crystal Kite Award Society of Children Book Writers & Illustrators Middle East/india/Asia
from Kirkus Review, starred
During her mother’s difficult pregnancy, Ema and her parents move in with her Japanese grandparents.
Usually, in August, Ema and her white, American mother visit Nana and Grandpa Bob in California. But Mom’s pregnant and weak, so they move in with Papa’s parents on the other side of Tokyo. A new neighborhood’s hard, especially for a biracial kid who’s called “foreigner” by strangers but identifies as Japanese. Ema describes her life and cares in thoughtful, quietly detailed free-verse poems. She worries about the baby (“Other babies have almost come but were lost”), the judgment of her domineering Obaasan (grandmother), and the frailty of sweet Jiichan (grandfather); she misses Papa, who’s almost always at work. Carefully, she refrains from burdening anyone with her concerns. Woven right into this family’s heart are events past and present, local and far-flung. One is Jiichan’s boyhood trauma during World War II, “in the hills / watching / outside Nagasaki,” and how that bombing means that Jiichan’s ancestors have nothing like a grave: “There is nothing / no thing / left of Jiichan’s family.” Another is the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which they watch unfold from Japan and which threaten her fragile mother’s peace of mind. An occasional one-sentence poem, starkly alone on a page, strikes hard. Ema’s profound choice of her baby sister’s name brilliantly touches all the themes, including peace.
A tender piece about connectedness. (Verse historical fiction. 9-12) —Kirkus , starred review
fromThe Horn Book Magazine
Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu Intermediate Dlouhy/Atheneum 441 pp.
Japanese fifth-grader Ema and her pregnant mother must move to the other side of Toyko to stay for several months with Obaasan and Jiichan, Papa’s parents: Mom is weak with debilitating morning sickness, and Papa works long hours. No one is happy with the situation — Ema will miss her usual summer visit to Mom’s parents in California; stern Obaasan is overly controlling and critical; and Ema must deal with new schoolmates — and a bully. The one bright spot for Ema is Jiichan, who enjoys spending time with his granddaughter. Ema’s narration in this free-verse novel is quiet and thoughtful. The year is 2001, and the news is filled with heartbreak: the tragedy of the Ehime Maru, the Japanese ship sunk by an American submarine; the commemoration in August of the anniversaries of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (where Jiichan lost his whole family); and then September 11th, especially traumatic for Ema’s American mother. The word heart appears throughout the poems, leading gradually to the climax, as Jiichan’s heart lands him in the hospital and a stranger gives Ema an origami doll with a heart on it and a message of peace — a message that awakens in Obaasan a change of heart. When the baby arrives, Ema comes up with the perfect name for her new sister — leaving her family and readers feeling full of hope for the future. Though Ema sometimes sounds older than eleven, that’s a small caveat in an otherwise well-crafted, deeply absorbing novel. — The Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2016
from Publishers Weekly
Ema’s life is in flux: her pregnant mother needs rest, so they’ve left Ema’s father in Tokyo while they stay with her grandparents, Obaasan and Jiichan, in the country. Ema misses her home and friends, as well as visiting her maternal grandparents in California in the summer. Meanwhile, her American mother clashes with Obaasan frequently; Ema has trouble getting to know her stern grandmother, too, though she connects with kindhearted Jiichan. As fifth grade begins, sensitive Ema has difficulties at school, including a bully, but her main concern is the health of her mother’s baby. Debut novelist Donwerth-Chikamatsu makes good use of the verse novel format to emphasize that “binational/ bicultural/ bilingual/ biracial” Ema is still learning English while revealing an intimate portrait of her daily struggles in an unfamiliar place. The novel is set over the course of several months in 2001, and while the 9/11 connection feels a bit tenuous, it provides a moving outside perspective on the tragedy and helps shape a universal message of “peace among nations/ peace among peoples/ peace in the heart.” Ages 9–12. Agent: Holly McGhee, Pippin Properties. (Apr.) –Publisher’s Weekly
from School Library Journal Gr 4–7—Ema’s mom is expecting a new baby, and the pregnancy has been a tricky one, so her parents decide that she and her mother will stay in Japan with her paternal grandparents until the baby arrives. Complicating matters is the fact that her grandparents are very traditional and strict, which makes the biracial tween feel like even more of an outsider. She cannot keep herself from missing her old life of spending summers with her American maternal grandparents or relaxing with her father after work. To make matters worse, it seems she can never make her Japanese grandmother happy. Then tragedy after tragedy strike—all set against the backdrop of September 11, 2001. Everything starts to fall apart. After receiving a small gift during a chance meeting on a train, Ema realizes that she must do her best to remain positive and endure. Written as a first-person novel in free verse poetry, this is an engaging, quick read. Readers will relate to Ema’s struggles to grow up and understand how different people react to grief and conflict. Those unfamiliar with Japanese culture will get a glimpse into how other students grow up. Though the topic is heavy, Donwerth-Chikamatsu’s writing style will keep even reluctant readers wanting to know more about Ema’s life long after the novel’s end. This debut is sure to get young students thinking about global connections and how remaining positive through adversity in their own lives may make things a little better. VERDICT An absorbing and affecting story featuring a biracial middle grade protagonist.—DeHanza Kwong, Central Piedmont Community College, Charlotte, NC