While I Was Away by Waka T. Brown

Published by Quill Tree Books

While I Was Away: Brown, Waka T.: 9780063017122: Amazon.com: Books

Summary:  In 1984, when Waka was 12 years old, her mother decided that she didn’t know as much Japanese as she should and arranged for her to spend five months in Japan living with her grandmother, Obaasama.  Not surprisingly, Waka was completely opposed to the idea, which meant missing the end of sixth grade, summer vacation, and the beginning of seventh grade and attending school in Japan for most of that time.  She went from being a straight-A student in America to being near the bottom of the class in Japan and had to learn how to navigate the unfamiliar social structure of her classmates.  By the end of the five months, though, her language skills had improved dramatically, and she had learned the importance of true friendship.  While she came to understand and love Obaasama, she never really was able to communicate with her, and that left a deep sadness at the end of her visit.  Ultimately, though, Waka comes to appreciate both of her cultures and to be grateful that she had the opportunity to spend the time in Japan learning about her heritage there.  320 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  This book came out in January, and it’s taken me all year to get around to reading it.  I’m not sure I ever would have (see the cons) if it hadn’t been for the fact that it’s currently #3 on the Goodreads mock Newbery list, and Betsy Bird included it in her fall Newbery predictions.  I found the story funnier than I thought it would be, but also poignant, especially at the end.  It really captures the immigrant experience of having a foot in each culture and makes a great case for the benefits of travel.

Cons:  Something about the cover didn’t appeal to me and led me to believe that this was a much sadder book than it actually is.

December 15, 2021 at 05:24PM Janet Dawson