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.
Raised in Japan, Emma Karas feels more Japanese than American, and her family s move to a town outside Lowell, Mass., has left her displaced. Her father s away working, her grandmother cooks bland American food, and her mother s about to have surgery for breast cancer, which is why they re there in the first place. Fifteen-year-old Emma feels guilty for leaving Japan so soon after the devastating earthquake and tsunami, and with all of this stress, she s started having migraines. Thompson lives in Japan, and her last book, Orchards, also dealt with cross-cultural complexities. At first, all the strands seem like too much: Emma also volunteers at a long-term care center, helping a woman with locked-in syndrome write poetry, and befriends half-Cambodian Samnang, a fellow volunteer. But Thompson, working in a free-verse style that becomes a seamless piece of a world imbued with poetry, weaves them together skillfully. The result is a touching portrait of Emma working through loss and opportunity as Lowell becomes not just not-Japan, but the site of new connections and a possible romance. Ages 12 up.