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by Holly Thompson


School Library Journal:

/* Starred Review */ 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 –Allison Tran (Reviewed April 1, 2013) (School Library Journal, vol 59, issue 4, p173)


  • Notable Books for a Global Society: 2014
  • YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults: 2014


10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, Cultural Differences, Teen