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WHILE I WAS AWAY by Waka T. Brown


by Waka T. Brown

Pub Date: Jan. 26th, 2021
ISBN: 978-0-06-301711-5
Publisher: Quill Tree Books/HarperCollins

In 1984, a 12-year-old Kansas girl spends five months in Japan with the intimidating grandmother she barely knows.

At school, Waka is used to being regarded as a brain—as well as the short kid. At home, her Japanese immigrant parents worry that in striving so hard to be American, she is losing touch with her heritage. The solution? Sending her to Japan to live with Obaasama and attend a local public school despite her strenuous protests. In her new Japanese school, Waka’s language struggles and cultural faux pas make her stand out—and not in a good way. On the other hand, she is considered tall and a jock. Breaking into established social circles presents another puzzle. But everything pales in comparison to learning to get along with her taciturn grandmother, whose traumatic history and emotional complexity come to light as their relationship deepens. Waka finds inner strength she didn’t know she had, cultivates greater self-awareness, and comes to truly love many aspects of Japan. The author shares her story in a conversational and accessible tone. Many facets of life in the 1980s will be as surprising as the U.S.–Japan cultural differences that readers unfamiliar with Japan discover alongside young Waka. International travel aside, the journey of coming to see oneself and others through more mature eyes is a universally familiar element of the middle school years, adding additional appeal.

An emotional, contemplative tale of risking and growing.

(author’s note) (Memoir. 10-14)