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."
(courtesy Yokohama City Univ.)
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
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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