Review: The Language Inside by Holly Thompson

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Language Inside by Holly ThompsonThe Language Inside by Holly Thompson
Published by Delacorte BFYR on May 14, 2013
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 528
Format: Hardcover
Source: YA Books Central
AmazonThe Book Depository

A nuanced novel in verse that explores identity in a multicultural world.

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.

Next in my continuing efforts to discover a love for verse, I picked up Holly Thompson’s The Language Inside. I also own a copy of her novel Orchards, so I’m glad I liked this one. Sadly, I’m still not really a verse person, but I was able to enjoy The Language Inside in spite of my remaining skepticism towards verse.

Emma grew up in Japan. Though not born there, she considers herself Japanese, no matter what her skin color conveys. She spoke Japanese before English, and Japan has always been home. After her mother is diagnosed with skin cancer, the family moves back to the US for her treatment. Emma’s upset, not wanting to leave her home country, her family and her culture.
I absolutely love the open-minded portrayal of race and culture in The Language Inside. Emma’s skin and heritage may be white, but her heart is Japanese. Not only is The Language Inside a diverse novel, but it highlights the fact that skin color really doesn’t matter and embraces the differences. You might think Emma would fit in better in the US, but she doesn’t. Her way of looking at the world isn’t Western. For example, certain types of humor go right over her head.

In a similar vein, Emma’s volunteering at an old folks’ home to help a woman with her poetry brings her into contact with even more experiences of culture. She befriends old Zena, who can communicate only with her eyes, and Samnang, a teen boy, Cambodian. The Novel Inside shows the depths of experience and identity within everyone. No one can be boiled down to just the country they came from or the color of their skin, and they can bond without language, whether using eyes or pictures or gestures. It’s such a beautiful, important message.
The writing, however, was not ideal for me. Not only is it the sort of verse without any real meter to it, but it’s also written with limited capitalization and punctuation. THE HORRORS. Okay, so it wasn’t terrible, but that will never be my preference and it did detract from the story for me as a reader.

The Language Inside is a must read for those looking for more diversity in their young adult novels, particularly readers like myself who love stories set wholly or partially in Asian culture. Even though I’m not personally a huge fan of verse novels, I still highly recommend The Language Inside.

Favorite Quote:

lonely is when the language outside
isn’t the language inside
and words are made of just 26 letters

Tl;dr – Book in a GIFfy:


One response to “Review: The Language Inside by Holly Thompson”

  1. ich, verse. Ich, limited capitalization and punctuation. Glad you enjoyed this despite verse being annoying as hell, but I can’t see myself liking this one. If I don’t like the writing it’s hard for me to appreciate much else. I’m going to read that one HarperTeen verse novel about self-harm, though, since I already have it because I didn’t know it was verse.

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