By Annie Donweth-Chikamatsu
Expected publication April 26, 2016 by Atheneum/Caitlyn Dhouly Books
Reviewed from e-ARC
Ema has never felt like she belonged. With a Japanese father and an American mother, she has been between two worlds. This summer, she and her mother will be staying in Japan with her grandparents - her mother is having a baby and the pregnancy has not been easy. Things only get more difficult when the tragedy of September 11th strikes. Will Ema and her family find a way to cope?
I'll read pretty much anything told in verse, so the pitch for this one caught my eye when I saw the galley available for download. I haven't read much fiction dealing with 9/11, but, as the 15th anniversary approaches, I've seen more and more middle grade books dealing with the topic. This one had the interesting perspective of a girl in a foreign country trying to understand her feelings (and the feelings of those around her) about the attacks. The details of life in Japan are interesting and will likely be new information to young readers. The book begins several months before the attacks take place, so there is some time of relative normalcy that will give readers insight into Ema and her family's lives. I thought Ema's inner struggles were realistically portrayed - her complicated feelings about her grandmother, her concern over her mother, her excitement over the new baby. It all felt very authentic.
However, the first part of this book moves very slowly. As I said, it begins several months prior to the attacks, so some readers might not be able to drag themselves through the start to get to that point. Additionally, this book seems to be one tragedy after another. I feel a bit how I felt while reading Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper - great book, with wonderful characters and a necessary perspective but did that last tragedy really add anything other than an overwhelming sense of hopelessness? Sad books seem to be more and more prevalent in middle grade fiction. I don't think this is a bad thing - fiction can often give us insight on how to process situations that make us feel complex emotions. But sometimes, when a book is one tragedy after another, it can feel a bit much for me, as an adult reader. Maybe I shouldn't be too surprised that kids love tragedy fiction - the "sad dog" books never sit on my shelves for very long.
Overall, this is a unique perspective on the attacks of September 11th, but might work best for readers willing to persevere through the first half. Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.