Written by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Illustrated by Sonia Chaghatzbanian
Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/Atheneum BYR 4/26/2016
448 pages Ages 9—12
Today is “Tell a Story Day.” Here’s a Great Story Told.
“two countries, two languages, two time
zones, and emotions she didn’t know
could exist together:
the bliss of awaiting a new baby’
the worry of moving to a new home
Jiichan and Obaachan,
as different as the sun and moon,
the dread of starting a new school.
Then, on September 11, 2001,
the whole world seems to stop.
Everyone is living somewhere among
chaos, fear, loneliness.
And Ema finds, somewhere inside
herself, the one thing
that can ever stop.
About the Story
Normally, eleven-year-old Ema spends summers with her American grandparents, but not this year. Mom is pregnant (high risk) and cannot travel. Ema stays in Japan, but the family will stay with dad’s Japanese parents, Obaachan and Jiichan. Ema will attend a new school, where she knows no one. Worse, from day one the school bully targets Ema—she looks different.
At home, grandma Obaachan runs the family and controls the money. She is stern, tightfisted, and a little superstitious. Obaachan keeps a close eye and a strict hand on Ema. (Ema tosses salt at her new/used bike—to dispatch any old evil—before first riding it. Obaachan is pleased.) Others openly wonder about Ema’s heritage, often calling her “foreigner.” She is looking forward to a sister or brother that looks like her: not quite Japanese and not quite American.
Everyone learns to live together, for the sake of the unborn child, and tries to maintain a stress free home for mom. For Ema, this means keeping quiet about her loneliness and the bully, feeling they would burden her family. Everyone does all they can to help mom deliver a healthy baby because, “Other babies have almost come but were lost.” Though plagued by morning sickness, mom remains relatively stress-free but weak. All this changes in one day: September 11, 2001.
A world away, mom’s homeland is terrorized. Not once, but three times. Mom worries about her parents. Television channels—as in America—repeatedly show the plane slamming into the twin towers. Each hit feels as fresh as the first, especially for mom. Ema’s grandparents no longer feel safe. Easy-going Jiichan worries about Japan. If America—Japan’s ally and defender— can be attacked, so can Japan. In an instant, life drastically changes.
Somewhere Among offers readers a glimpse at daily life in Japan. Japanese culture, social expectations, superstitions, and day-to-day life give the novel an additional character, in that it influences each family member’s actions and emotions. At its heart, Somewhere Among is about peace and being connected: to each other and to the world.
Though different in many ways, Ema’s life is universal. The Japanese school day runs differently than an American, still Ema feels the questioning eyes all new students feel. She faces the anger of a bully, who targets her because she looks different. Ema’s home life is different from most home life in America. She has less freedom and cultural expectations are higher. Still, Ema feels much the same as many kids her age. She wants her own space, more freedom, and for family to stop treating her like a child. Simple yet complex, just like the story as a whole.
Somewhere Among is from Ema’s point-of-view and written in free-verse (making for a faster read). Verse can offer more information on textually elegant pages. A page with one or two lines, and nothing else, hits the reader in ways bold or capitalized text never can. When expertly written, novels in verse can be mesmerizing. Immediately, K. A. Holt and Helen Hopkins come to mind. Now, I also think of Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu. Donwerth-Chikamatsu writes beautifully in both form and function, succinctly relating Ema’s Japanese life. Somewhere Among is brilliant.
September 11th resurfaces fears rooted in World War II and Japan’s promise to its people. This serves to support the themes of connectedness and peace (world, individuals, and self). Inter-character moments shine a light upon daily Japanese life. These social, shared, and personal moments will make you smile and occasionally laugh. I found the story absorbing and heartfelt; deeply caring about Ema (or maybe all Ema represents). Do not miss this brilliant middle grade debut by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu. Put Somewhere Among near the top of your reading list.
SOMEWHERE AMONG. Text copyright © 2016 by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu. Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Sonia Chaghatzbanian. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Atheneum BYR, New York, NY.
Find Somewhere Among on Goodreads HERE.
Read an Excerpt from Somewhere Among HERE.
Author’s Blog, “Here and There Japan” Somewhere Among Posts HERE. (Extremely Interesting)
Read Interview with Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu HERE.
Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu: https://anniedonwerth-chikamatsu.com/
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Atheneum Books for Young Readers is an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division.
Winner 2013 Writer’s League of Texas Manuscript Contest — Middle Grade
Copyright © 2016 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
Full Disclosure: Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu, and received from Atheneum BYR, (an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division), is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”