Set in Japan 2001. Ema is an eleven-year-old American-Japanese girl; bi-cultural, bilingual and bi-national with an American mother and a Japanese father.
Ema has lived in Japan all her life, has attended Japanese public school, has done well and has friends that she has to leave for a few months because of her mother’s difficult pregnancy. She and her parents go across Tokyo to stay at her grandparents’ house.
Ema’s grandmother takes care of them and makes sure that Ema knows the finer points of Japanese culture. Ema is miserable trying to keep peace between her grandmother and mother, to keep cool in the summer heat, and to keep up her studies.
She finishes the schoolwork for the semester under her grandmother’s nose and in front of the television. It is always on; her grandfather never misses the news. Things heat up even more for Ema when a bully at the neighborhood school that she has to attend in the fall makes her life miserable as well.
Waiting for the sibling she has always wanted, being with her Japanese grandfather, receiving phone calls from her American grandparents, and making a new friend make the time bearable until all is threatened when the towers go down in New York.
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Writing Somewhere Among
I didn’t set out to write about 9-11.
At the time of the earthquake and tsunami March 11, 2011, Japan’s 9-11, I was working on a middle grade prose novel set in Texas, my home state. The earth rocked our Tokyo house for months afterwards. The damaged nuclear plant threatened our air, food, and water.
Leaving Japan was not an option. We had been living with my in-laws for over twenty years, one child was in university, and the other was about to start Japanese high school. Who could leave and come back?
Health issues, an ageing mother-in-law, and pets made it impossible to go to the area to volunteer. I tried working on the Texas novel and sent out a lifeline by paying for a critique for it. Survival mode took its toll and I eventually had to put it aside.
I needed to ground myself in Japan.
I wasn’t able to write about the aftershocks, the fleeing foreign residents, and the radiation crisis of the nuclear plants. I couldn’t bear reading, hearing or seeing anything more about it. I had to disengage to lighten my heart.
In troubled times, we turn to family and relationships and, sometimes, to the past for comfort. I started writing tidbits, the observations and connections I had made over the years here, things that rooted me here, things about living here within a Japanese family for over twenty years:
the old wooden house Great-grandfather built after World War II that leaned in typhoons, jerked in earthquakes, but stood its ground;
the one-room lifestyle we had upstairs in the old house before we built a new house in its place;
the palm tree that soared above its rooftop but now watches over us from outside the dining room window;
the loving relationships my children had with all their family, and
the memories of my children’s Japanese public school experience.
A dozen or more short pieces, poems and memories quickly evolved into a story from a child’s point of view. The first draft came fast.
I was still dealing with the grief of the earthquake and tsunami. It was still hard to trust the earth beneath our feet. Hard to trust the roof over our heads. Hard to trust the air we breathed. The story did not turn out to be about any of that.
But it didn’t turn out light-hearted. It had become Somewhere Among, a middle grade novel set in another difficult time, 2001. The story highlights the history, anniversaries, and tragedies my two families’ countries have shared. It is about reconciliation. About going on. About finding peace within.
It is built from research of events, weather, and NASA before and in 2001. The story includes some true instances from our school and family life. However, the Japanese grandmother in particular is not my children’s grandmother. And my children never fell behind in their studies.
But we do appreciate sky watching. We’ve met more friends than bullies, and once, while exiting a train, a woman, seeing I was having a bad day, placed a peace doll in my hand.
It still brightens our hearts.