Eleven-year-old Ema has always been of two worlds—her father’s Japanese heritage and her mother’s life in America. She’s spent summers in California for as long as she can remember, but this year she and her mother are staying with her grandparents in Japan as they await the arrival of Ema’s baby sibling. Her mother’s pregnancy has been tricky, putting everyone on edge, but Ema’s heart is singing—finally, there will be someone else who will understand what it’s like to belong and not belong at the same time.
But Ema’s good spirits are muffled by her grandmother who is cold, tightfisted, and quick to reprimand her for the slightest infraction. Then, when their stay is extended and Ema must go to a new school, her worries of not belonging grow. And when the tragedy of 9/11 strikes, Ema, her parents, and the world watch as the twin towers fall…
As Ema watches her mother grieve for her country across the ocean—threatening the safety of her pregnancy—and her beloved grandfather falls ill, she feels more helpless and hopeless than ever. And yet, surrounded by tragedy, Ema sees for the first time the tender side of her grandmother, and the reason for the penny-pinching and sternness make sense—her grandmother has been preparing so they could all survive the worst.
Dipping and soaring, Somewhere Among is the story of one girl’s search for identity, inner peace, and how she discovers that hope can indeed rise from the ashes of disaster.
Written in poetic form, this middle grade novel takes young readers to Japan and into the life of Ema. As an eleven-year-old, Ema's character observes the atrocities of the world with a critical mind and a heart that wishes for peace: in her home, in her family, in her world. This wish, and others, are hung from bamboo during Tanabata, the Japanese star festival. And through this, it is clear that the heart of this novel is about wishes and hopes for the future.
Ema and her pregnant mother move in with her father's parents, and like most families, hers is complicated. With a strict grandmother, an empathetic grandfather, and a mother who fears for her unborn baby, Ema is forced to transition into a new school and a new life, all while the world changes.
September 11, 2001, Ema is awakened by horrific things on the news. What Ema has that others may not, is a spectacular author who imbues this novel with echoes of the pain of Pearl Harbor, and the distinction between a world of peace and a world of terror. Though readers will not experience 9/11 from the United States in this novel, the way the rest of the world deals with this moment in time is just as interesting. And given the fact that Ema has connections to Japanese culture, and grandparents from the US, her viewpoint is immense and integral to the success of this story.
While 9/11 does not fill every page of this book--some days are spent at school or in the garden or looking up at the stars-- the tremors of this terrifying time can be felt on every page. With the promise of a new sibling, it is as if the author has put all of the hopes and dreams for the world after 9/11's terrorist attacks in the image of one new baby. And of course this is such a beautiful way to think about how worlds have had to be rebuilt after devastation, after wars; bereavement and sorrow giving birth to better times ahead.
Throughout this novel there are many Japanese words and customs introduced, however, these things never feel confusing. If anything, readers will learn so much more about the Japanese culture in a way that feels organic and important to the story. It is the way Ema wishes on a blue slip of paper, the way they try to remember New Year's dreams amongst Christmas trees and Beatles songs, that we truly see her "somewhere among" Japan and America.
With exquisite details and heartfelt sentiments, this world is one that is full of love and light amidst sorrow and darkness. It is true that the most beautiful observations often come from children; unclouded by past hate or a life filled with hurt. Ema's observations are beautiful, even when they are enough to break hearts. And this book is heartbreaking. But from the rubble of Ema's wishes and the fallen towers, readers will see the rebuilding of hope in just one paper crane, the forgiveness of school squabbles, the future hope of new life, the profundity of glow-in-the-dark ceiling stars on the darkest of nights. All of this fills the lyrical pages of Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu's debut novel.
Perfect for both parents and children, SOMEWHERE AMONG will transport readers to a beautiful culture during a devastating time in history where they can see just how much people and whole worlds are changed.