Title: The Language Inside
Author: Holly Thompson
Publisher: May 14th 2013 by Delacorte
Format: Hardcover, 528 pages
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, though American, has lived in Japan all her life, and considers it her home. When her mother becomes ill, the family moves to America until her treatment is done and they can move back. Emma misses everything about Japan and feels like a fish out of water with her school mates and everyone’s American ways. After she starts volunteering, she meets Samnang and they grow close.
There is a lot happening in this book – earthquakes, tsunamis, cultural differences, cancer, death, friendship, first love, migraines, PTSD, war, family relationships and obligations… Sometimes I felt like it was maybe one issue too many, but I think Holly Thompson did a pretty good job of keeping everything moving and meshing it all together into one fluent story.
I really liked Emma, she was kind and thoughtful and so nice. There was nary a sign of teenage brattiness to her. She had lovely parents, who cared about each other and talked to each other and their kids. Emma’s little brother didn’t play a big part, but he seemed nice enough. You could call this your average nice family. I also liked Samnang, though I found him to be a bit on the quiet side for me. I loved the woman in the nursing home Emma started visiting, Zena. She was bedridden and unable to move anything except her eyes. Even with those limitations, you could tell she had a great attitude and a fun sense of humor.
The words were written in free verse form with very little punctuation, and only line breaks to help keep everything in order. The times when someone was talking were indicated by italics, not quotation marks. It only took a page or two for me to get into the flow of the words, and after that, I zipped through, able to follow along perfectly.
I don’t know when to say what
I don’t know if something’s funny or not
I don’t get sarcasm
layered over sarcasm
and jokes made by
I know how to read silence in Japan
I can read the air in Japan
but I don’t have a clue
how to read the air here
With such sparse words and free-flowing nature of the words, Holly Thompson knows how to paint a picture. She made you feel how lonely Emma was, even when surrounded by people. And though there wasn’t a lot of talk about her mom’s cancer, Holly still managed to express how scared Emma was.
Though I had my little issues, I enjoyed this book overall. I look forward to reading more by this author.