Book Blog: The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Because I've been working on a verse novel, I've been reading scads of verse novels. The beauty of this form is not only that you get gorgeous language, rhythm, sounds, imagery, and more--you also get a very quick read. This is a benefit if you happen to be chasing a toddler around (this means you, too, Jodi and Bret)! Today I'm thrilled to share Holly Thompson's The Language Inside.

Although she's an American, Emma has spent her entire life in Japan, and feels she belongs there. She also feels needed, because at the book's outset, the 2011 tsunami has ravaged the country, and families she knows are in trouble. When her mother's illness forces Emma's family to move in with her grandmother in the United States, Emma experiences culture shock, migraines, and a fierce desire to return to Japan. Through her grandmother's meddling, she volunteers in a long-term care center where she bonds through poetry with Zena, a patient who can communicate only by blinking. She also befriends Samnang, a fellow volunteer and dancer who slowly captures her heart. Over time, her desire to return to Japan is tempered with her desire to stay in the US, and she must make a heartwrenching decision.

What I loved most about this book was the language--not only the gorgeous free verse with which the story is told, but Emma's own conflicts with language, her struggles with writing poetry and sharing so much of herself through that poetry. One of Emma's poems begins:

Lonely Is

when the language outside
is not the language inside
and words are made of just 26 letters
not parts that tell stories

So much of this novel is delightful--the rhythm of the language, the poems within the story, the descriptions of dancing, and the discoveries of culture, belonging, and friendship. It is full, and fascinating.

For a review of Holly Thompson's first YA novel, Orchards, you can read Katherine's post here.


Beth, books with beautiful language are such a gift. You can read them over and over and take away something different each time. This story sounds wonderful. Thanks!

Aaron & Robin, if you read it, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! You might also want to give Orchards a try. Heartbreaking in places, with fantastic imagery derived from its setting in rural Japan.

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