Friday, June 21, 2013

The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Emma grew up in Japan.  It's her home.  There's nowhere else she'd rather be.  But Emma's mother has been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the family has moved to Lowell, Massachusetts to stay with her Emma's grandmother while her mother has treatment.  Emma has never felt so out of place and alone.  She begins volunteering at a long-term care center to help a patient who cannot move or speak write down her poems. 

Emma is a poet, and the book was written in free verse.  In general, I am not a fan of books written in verse.  Of the many I've read, I thought two worked.  Those two would be Love that Dog by Sharon Creech and Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff.  Both excellent books, and the fact they were written in verse actually made it better.  Oh!  And Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai.  That worked great with free verse. But most of the time I've found that writing a book in free verse adds nothing at best and makes it annoying at worse.

With The Language Inside I didn't find it annoying most of the time.  But since this particular free verse was essentially in sentence form anyway, just with random breaks, I wondered why it hadn't just been written as prose.  I guess it didn't take anything away, necessarily, but I don't think it added anything either.

Emma is white and has grown up in Japan.  She struggles with identity and people's assumptions that she's from the U.S. when she feels so out of place there.  The book also did a nice job of making the point, subtly, that not all Asian cultures are the same.  Or know about each other.  The boy Emma is interested in is Samnag, whose name at first she thought was Sam Nag, and he's Cambodian.  Emma knows nothing about Cambodia and makes a point to learn about the history and culture.

Since coming to Lowell, Emma has begun to suffer from migraines.  I am unclear what purpose the migraines served.  It was never resolved why she began having them.  The didn't seem to serve any particular purpose in moving the story forward.  Perhaps to give her some kind of physical aliment so she could better sympathize with the patients at the center she was working at?  Or her mother?  I wasn't sure.

I liked that it was more than a girl-meets boy story.  It was really more about culture than anything else.  Emma feeling Japanese but not looking like it.  Wanting to return to Japan, but feeling conflicted as she finds things to love in her new home.  Samnag and his own cultural conflictions.  Of course, Emma mainly changes her mind about return to Japan because of Samnag...but she doesn't give up return to Japan permanently.  So that was good.

A nice book, but didn't knock my socks off or anything.

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