cover image While I Was Away

While I Was Away

Waka T. Brown. Quill Tree, $16.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-301711-5

Brown’s debut explores an experience of having one foot in two cultures in an age-appropriate memoir. When she was 12, Brown’s Japanese-born parents decided to send her to live with her grandmother—Obaasama—in Tokyo for five months. Brown, the first in her family to be born in America, is upset by the prospect of leaving her Kansas friends behind—and attending Japanese school—for more than an entire summer. Once in Japan, however, Brown slowly begins to find her footing, including shared interests—Twix candy bars—with her brusque grandmother. Obaasama, widowed young, maintains the same hard exterior that she employed in raising her own nine children, and Brown learns that Obaasama’s own abusive father—who once burned Obaasama with a branding iron—informed her grandmother’s toughcaretaking style. The text is peppered with Japanese words as well as hiragana, katakana, and kanji, for which Brown explains alphabet and character differences. This personal story offers readers a glimpse at Japanese and American cultural differences while stressing that what makes things different is also what makes them unique. Ages 14–up. Agent: Penny Moore and Erin Files, Aevitas Creative Management. (Jan.)