During her mother’s difficult pregnancy, Ema and her parents move in with her Japanese grandparents.
Usually, in August, Ema and her white, American mother visit Nana and Grandpa Bob in California. But Mom’s pregnant and weak, so they move in with Papa’s parents on the other side of Tokyo. A new neighborhood’s hard, especially for a biracial kid who’s called “foreigner” by strangers but identifies as Japanese. Ema describes her life and cares in thoughtful, quietly detailed free-verse poems. She worries about the baby (“Other babies have almost come but were lost”), the judgment of her domineering Obaasan (grandmother), and the frailty of sweet Jiichan (grandfather); she misses Papa, who’s almost always at work. Carefully, she refrains from burdening anyone with her concerns. Woven right into this family’s heart are events past and present, local and far-flung. One is Jiichan’s boyhood trauma during World War II, “in the hills / watching / outside Nagasaki,” and how that bombing means that Jiichan’s ancestors have nothing like a grave: “There is nothing / no thing / left of Jiichan’s family.” Another is the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which they watch unfold from Japan and which threaten her fragile mother’s peace of mind. An occasional one-sentence poem, starkly alone on a page, strikes hard. Ema’s profound choice of her baby sister’s name brilliantly touches all the themes, including peace.
A tender piece about connectedness. (Verse historical fiction. 9-12)