Friday, May 24, 2013

Update on TCR Story of the Month Author Holly Thompson: The Language Inside

Delacorte/Random House has just published The Language Inside, a new novel by Holly Thompson whose fine story "Mentos" was TCR Story of the Month for March.

Intended for young adult readers, The Language Inside tells the story of Emma, an American teenager brought up in Japan, who goes to live with her grandmother in a New England industrial town while her mother undergoes cancer treatment.

To help ease her longing for Japan, the country she considers home, Emma volunteers at a local healthcare facility where she assists Zena, a stroke patient. Zena suffers from locked-in syndrome, a condition which has left her mentally active but physically paralyzed and unable to speak.
 Emma helps with writing down the poems Zena composes. While volunteering, Emma meets Samnang, a youth working with elderly members of the town's growing Cambodian refugee community.

The Language Inside is a novel in verse, a form Thompson used in her earlier novel, Orchards. "I think each verse novelist approaches a verse novel in a unique way," Thompson explained to Annemarie O'Brien of Quirk and Quill. "Many 'verse novels' are actually what I would call 'novels in poems.' My approach is to write each chapter as a longish poem, with each page a sort of sub-poem. I’m very conscious of page turns. This means that while each page may not contain a true stand-alone poem, within that chapter it should serve as a sort of sub-poem, a unit larger than a stanza but smaller than the chapter."

Holly Thompson
(courtesy Yokohama City Univ.)
A reviewer for Peace Love Books calls The Language Inside "unlike anything I've ever read before. Wow. This book is written in verse... I'm pretty sure the last time I read a book in verse was in elementary school, so I was really hesitant going in. In the end, I enjoyed it so much."

Bildungsroman strongly recommends The Language Inside calling it "a refreshing and believable take on the fish-out-of-water story...a really solid book."

Thompson, a Massachusetts native who has lived for many years in Japan, based The Language Inside partly on her own experience. As a graduate student in the creative writing program at New York University in the 1980s, Thompson participated in a writing workshop organized by poet Sharon Olds at a long-term care hospital. One of the patients Thompson was assigned to work with was poet Julia Tavalaro. Twenty years earlier, Tavalaro suffered a stroke which left her with locked-in syndrome.

Julia Tavalaro's memoir, 1998
"With Julia, I used a letter board as instructed, pointing to the columns of letters one by one then running down the letters until she looked up, then writing down the selected letter—this was how she communicated her poems, letter by letter," Thompson writes in her blog. "Anyone who worked with Julia was profoundly affected by her. She had a fiery determination. She was stubborn. Angry. Crass. Funny. Defiant. Devious. She was unforgettable, and I knew that one day I’d write a story about a girl who works with a brainstem stroke victim."

Tavalaro's memoir, Look Up for Yes, written with poet Richard Tayson, was published in 1998.

Here's more information --

"Holly Thompson." Asian Books Blog, 11 April 2013.

"Q & A with Holly Thompson." World Reads, May 2013.

Meyer, Richard E. "Julia Understands Everything."  Los Angeles Times, 17 December 1995.

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