Skip to main content

The Language Inside


The Language Inside

Holly Thompson portrays a young woman caught between two cultures in THE LANGUAGE INSIDE.

Emma was born in the United States, but since she's lived in Japan since she was little, she often thinks of herself as Japanese. She doesn't look Japanese, of course, but she is fluent in the language, and all her good friends and memories are Japanese. In the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, in particular, Emma feels more loyal to her family's adopted country than ever before. She has many friends who have lost close family members in the disaster, and she wants to do everything she can to help them and others like them.

"Holly Thompson has lived in Tokyo for many years, and her obvious knowledge of and affection for her adopted country shines through all of THE LANGUAGE INSIDE."

But that's before her mom is diagnosed with breast cancer, before her parents make the decision to move back to the United States for a time so that her mom can be treated in the best Boston hospitals. Almost before she knows it (and definitely before she can come to terms with it,) Emma, her younger brother and her mom have moved in to her grandmother's house outside Lowell, Massachusetts, while her dad works for his company's New York office.

Lowell is nothing like Japan, and Emma has a hard time maintaining not only her connections with her friends overseas but also her connection to the language and culture she loves. She's even started developing debilitating migraines as a result of all the stress and changes she's going through. Her grandmother recommends that she get involved as a poetry mentor at an assisted care facility in the town. There Emma meets Zena, a middle-aged woman who can only move her eyes, but who works with Emma to write profound poetry regardless. And she also meets Samnang, part of Lowell's large Cambodian community, who introduces her to yet another culture --- and who might give her a reason to stay in the United States.

Holly Thompson has lived in Tokyo for many years, and her obvious knowledge of and affection for her adopted country shines through all of THE LANGUAGE INSIDE. Thompson, like Emma, is also a poet, and the novel is written in blank verse, allowing the lyricism of Emma's language to shine through on every page.

The novel is ultimately about making connections and about resilience --- both the survival of the Japanese people and of Emma's strong but fragile family. It's also a useful reminder to American readers that diversity of all sorts --- whether diversity of ability or of culture --- resides all around us and that seeking out that diversity can enrich lives in unexpected ways. THE LANGUAGE INSIDE is a thoughtful novel about family, friendship and flexibility.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 24, 2013

The Language Inside
by Holly Thompson

  • Publication Date: May 14, 2013
  • Genres: Young Adult 12+
  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0385739796
  • ISBN-13: 9780385739795