Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Review: The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

Title: The Language Inside
Author: Holly Thompson
# Of Pages: 528
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 14, 2013
Source: Borrowed ARC
Level: Young Adult
Rating: 4 Hearts



Emma Karas was raised in Japan; it's the country she calls home. But when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Emma's family moves to a town outside Lowell, Massachusetts, to stay with Emma's grandmother while her mom undergoes treatment.  

Emma feels out of place in the United States. She begins to have migraines, and longs to be back in Japan. At her grandmother's urging, she volunteers in a long-term care center to help Zena, a patient with locked-in syndrome, write down her poems. There, Emma meets Samnang, another volunteer, who assists elderly Cambodian refugees. Weekly visits to the care center, Zena's poems, dance, and noodle soup bring Emma and Samnang closer, until Emma must make a painful choice: stay in Massachusetts, or return home early to Japan.

My Verdict

Author, Holly Thompson uses free verse to weave together a great multi-cultural story about family, friends, love, hardship, and what to do when the language inside doesn’t match the language outside.

The main character, Emma, and her family move from Japan (the only home Emma’s ever known) when her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer. The family moves to Massachusetts to stay with a relative so that her mom can be treated in Boston. 

Her mother’s breast cancer, the move - it all leaves Emma with a lot of stress and she starts to suffer from severe migraines. Emma also experiences a lot of guilt having left Japan right after it was struck by the tragedy of a Tsunami. She feels she should be there with her friends to help clean up the destruction and start rebuilding.

Her grandmother signs Emma up to volunteer at a long-term care facility while she’s in town. She is there to help a patient named Zena , who suffers from locked-in syndrome, write poetry.  The only way Zena can communicate is with her eyes. Emma has to hold up an alphabet board organized by row and color, reading each one out until Zena looks up to select a letter. I found this dynamic of the story to be very heartwarming as we get to watch Zena and Emma’s relationship grow as they connect with one another through their mutual love of poetry.

There is also a small romance aspect to the story between Emma and Samnang, a fellow volunteer at the care facility. It’s a sweet relationship that develops slowly throughout the story but at times it was frustrating too because they weren’t even going out but Emma would get all worked up and upset if he hung out with another girl *insert eye roll*.

“I look at him
and he looks straight back at me
into me
and there’s a calm
between us

we are just sitting, breathing,
and I think we are smiling
with out eyes.”

As you can see, this book deals with a lot of different issues; breast cancer, locked-in syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder, and migraines, to name some, but it does so effortlessly, weaving them together into one coherent and touching story about one girl’s journey to find herself.


  1. This one sounds pretty intense, but also really good! I may need to add this one to my wishlist!

  2. I love the premise of this book. It sounds intriguing and moving. I especially like that it reads like poetry when a large part of the story seems to deal with writing poetry. I don't really read a lot of poetry. I don't mind it, but it just never struck me as something I really really enjoy. It's lyrical, but I love descriptions too much. I like seeing the big picture, the whole scene, not just a glimpse into the characters soul, which is sort of how all of the other books I've read in this format have been. I guess I'll have to read this one and see if its as great as it sounds or if the free verse annoys me. Great review!

    Jesse @ Pretty In Fiction

  3. Sounds like an intense, but beautiufl book

  4. Ah, this book just sounds so amazing that I'm kind of breathless right now. <3 I love this line in your review, Amanda: what to do when the language inside doesn’t match the language outside. Your sentence sounds like a poem, I heart it to pieces. <3 I love poetry although it usually takes very long time before I can't comprehend the meaning LOL. I'll make sure to add this book to my wish list! :) I especially love that the heroine used to live in Japan. <3

    Amazing review, hun! Someday I want to read your poetry. *wink wink* ;)


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