Author: Holly Thompson
Date: May 14, 2013, Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Character: Emma Karas
Review: Novels in verse are a favorite of mine, so I want you to know that up front. That said, The Language Inside had way more going on that just the verse. There are many layers to this story.
Emma Karas’s world has been turned upside down. First, a tsunami devastated the coast of Japan affecting the family of her best friend. Then, though Emma has lived in Japan most of her life, her own family must return to the United States so her mother can get treatment for her cancer. Emma really feels she should be helping with the flood cleanup. On top of concern about her mother, she also worries that while she’s away she will lose her abilities with Japanese. To make matters worse, as a result of the stress, she begins to get migraines that basically incapacitate her.
In the midst of these many changes in her life, Emma begins to work at a long-term care center with Zena, a patient unable to speak or move. Her grandmother volunteered her. This is a way to reach beyond her own troubles, but as she reaches out, she also grows.
Samnang is an additional part of Emma’s story. He’s another high school student working at the center. His mother fled Cambodia as a young girl and came to the United States. He has struggles of his own, but is Emma’s first friend in the states.
At the center, Emma reads poetry to Zena as they practice writing their own poems. I loved this aspect of the book. I was disappointed that the shared poems didn’t appear in the back of the book, but the titles and authors were there and all were easily available online. I experimented with reading or not reading the poems and found that the book made sense without the content of the poem, but it was certainly enriched when I read them. I especially loved “Homage to My Hips” by Louise Clifton and the one about the children of Cambodia, “Litany for a Hidden Apsara.”
There is so much going on in The Language Inside: migraines, cancer, refugees, languages, culture, friendship, homesickness, and poetry. Surprisingly though, it works. Holly Thompson created well developed and believable characters. Emma and Samnang are teens who are trying to figure out their lives and are making mistakes along the way, but still keeping it together. One of the ways Emma holds it together is through her poetry:
lonely is the when the language outside
isn’t the language inside
and words are made of just 26 letters
I highly recommend this look into the lives of people who are walking the line between two cultures and learning about themselves in the process.
Crystal Brunelle is a library media specialist. She is also a co-blogger at Rich in Color which reviews diverse YA and has her own blog Reading Through Life which is a mix of children’s and YA along with reflections on teaching in her elementary school library.