It was not until I was a fair way into this book that I realized how many things it was attempting to do, and only upon finishing it did I understand its mastery.
Title: Somewhere Among
Author: Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Page #: 448
Genre: Middlegrade, Historical Fiction, Poetry
This is a story about an 11 year old girl with a Japanese father and an American mother. Her mother is currently pregnant with a new little sibling, after suffering several miscarriages, and is sickly. Ema must accompany her mother to her grandparent’s house in the Japanese countryside. She doesn’t want to leave her friends, she doesn’t want to miss her annual vacation to visit her mother’s parents in America, she doesn’t want to have to go to a new school where she will become a spectacle, but she does, because she wants this baby. This is her story coming to terms with the good and the bad in life, with sacrifice, valor, and selfishness. It was beautiful.
The thing that really caught me off guard about this one, and subsequently made me buy it, was the fact that it is written in verse. Aside from some good ol’ Shel Silverstene, Robert Frost, or Emily Dickinson selections poetry aimed at kids is a little hard to come by. Creating a narrative through poetry sounded like a great way to introduce a lot of modern poetry to kids. Slam poetry, urban poetry, rap, all have the potential for narrative and they are growing ever popular. I wanted to see if this was done well, if the form would enhance the story, or if it was just a gimmick. I am glad to say it blew me away, rather than let me down.
The second thing that hit me was just how this is a piece with so many interlocking pieces: from what it is like to be biracial, what it is like to grow up in Japan, what it is like to become an older sibling for the first time, what it is like to worry about a parent’s health, what it is like to hear about something as major as the 9/11 attacks. It was slowly rotating and focusing on all of these things and none of them felt forgotten or lesser. I think part of this is due to the minimalist nature of verse. When writing in verse you can’t spend too much time with any one thing, less the poems become erratic or unhinged. There is astounding balance in this book. For every point there is a counterpoint, and rather than clashing, they exist harmoniously with each other. This, is for sure, a sign of the author’s talent.
The last thing I want to touch on I didn’t realize was a part of the book until I saw some of the headings. (Careful consideration of the cover might have clued me in, but I didn’t look too deeply into it). I had the revelation while reading this book, that the children who would read it were not born before 9/11. Part of what Annie does in this book is attempt to capture the horror of a terror attack. This is perhaps one of the most important thing in this book, . She compares 9/11 to the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and boy did I love it. It showed not just the immediate reaction to something so detrimental but the long term effects. Aside from her own experience raising biracial children in Japan she was able to set this book in a way that perfectly explained terrorism and what it does, immediately and for years to come. It helped build empathy, and teach forgiveness; the characters in the book know what it is like to live through an event like this and their empathy for the very country who perpetrated the acts of terror that shocked them is ground breaking. It is important that these two are linked. Just as Ema struggles with conflicting emotions, she sees something that brings everyone together and ironically it is the same thing that tears them apart: FEAR.
This book was incredibly well written, delicately plotted, extremely poignant and just all around wonderful. I read it in one sitting (once you really get into it, reading verse is like being carried along on a song). If you have a kid that loves to read, likes historical novels, wants to learn about living through 9/11, likes Japanese culture, any or all of the above? Grab this guy. It would make an interesting independent reading book as it raises many questions and dichotomies to be discussed in an essay. It is just good stuff. Highly recommended.
(Sorry I was absent for a month, been dealing with some rough stuff in the real world. This was one of the many books I read on my hiatus and hopefully I can keep doing this at least semi-regularly for the foreseeable future.)