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 her grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.
Emma feels out of place in the United States, 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 early to Japan.
“There’s a lot going on here, but Thompson keeps the many plot elements cohesive, and the vivid imagery in the lyrical free verse lends immediacy to Emma’s turbulent feelings. Readers will finish the book knowing that, like Zena, the Cambodian refugees, and the tsunami victims, Emma has the strength to “a hundred times fall down / a hundred and one times get up.” Lists of poems referenced in the narrative and recommended resources are appended.” —The Horn Book Magazine