Somewhere, Among by Anne Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Several weeks ago, I was at a retirement celebration for my English education professor (and academic advisor) at my private college. It just so happened that one of my mentor teachers from student teaching was there—she and I fell into a terrific conversation about teaching, life, and books. Always books. An observation K had made (and I agree with, now that I notice it) is that young adult literature is kind of in a lull right now. Dystopian fiction has been the big trend, but many of the books coming out are starting to feel like copycats (case in point: I’m currently listening to Red Queen on audiobook, and it just feels like a Hunger Games knockoff, though I’m willing to hear it out). That said, I do think a trend is emerging in children’s and middle-grade literature: the novel in verse. Or, to be less fancy, fictional books written in poetic form. Somewhere, Among is part of this new canon.
Ema, our young protagonist, finds herself moving to Japan in 2001. Her mom is white American, her dad Japanese, and her Japanese paternal grandparents an enigma. Her grandfather is loving and accepting, her grandmother seemingly stern and stoic. Ema struggles to understand school, and she is taunted by a bully. Her mom is struggling with a pregnancy and feeling completely adrift from her beloved parents, while her dad is working hard to make enough money for the family—even worse, his job takes him away from home. All of this converges on 9/11, and family health scares force Ema into a new way of thinking.
I’ve read some truly fantastic novels-in-verse (favorites include Inside Out and Back Again, as mentioned in my previous review, Kwame Alexander’s Newbery-winning The Crossover, and Jacqueline Woodson’s National Book Award-winning Brown Girl Dreaming). This was not quite up to that caliber, but it was still a solid, heartwarming book. Recommended to kids and kids-at-heart alike.