Somewhere Among

illus. by Sonia Chaghatzbanian. 448p. ebook available. S. & S./Atheneum. 2016. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781481437868.
Gr 4–7—Ema's mom is expecting a new baby, and the pregnancy has been a tricky one, so her parents decide that she and her mother will stay in Japan with her paternal grandparents until the baby arrives. Complicating matters is the fact that her grandparents are very traditional and strict, which makes the biracial tween feel like even more of an outsider. She cannot keep herself from missing her old life of spending summers with her American maternal grandparents or relaxing with her father after work. To make matters worse, it seems she can never make her Japanese grandmother happy. Then tragedy after tragedy strike—all set against the backdrop of September 11, 2001. Everything starts to fall apart. After receiving a small gift during a chance meeting on a train, Ema realizes that she must do her best to remain positive and endure. Written as a first-person novel in free verse poetry, this is an engaging, quick read. Readers will relate to Ema's struggles to grow up and understand how different people react to grief and conflict. Those unfamiliar with Japanese culture will get a glimpse into how other students grow up. Though the topic is heavy, Donwerth-Chikamatsu's writing style will keep even reluctant readers wanting to know more about Ema's life long after the novel's end. This debut is sure to get young students thinking about global connections and how remaining positive through adversity in their own lives may make things a little better.
VERDICT An absorbing and affecting story featuring a biracial middle grade protagonist.

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