Named one of New York Public Library's & Bank Street's Best Books of the Year!
The Farewell meets Erin Entrada Kelly's Blackbird Fly in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to 1980s Japan, where she was sent as a child to reconnect to her family’s roots.
When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand the basic Japanese they speak to her, they make a drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for several months with her strict grandmother. Forced to say goodbye to her friends and what would have been her summer vacation, Waka is plucked from her straight-A-student life in rural Kansas and flown across the globe, where she faces the culture shock of a lifetime.
In Japan, Waka struggles with reading and writing in kanji, doesn’t quite mesh with her complicated and distant Obaasama, and gets made fun of by the students in her Japanese public-school classes. Even though this is the country her parents came from, Waka has never felt more like an outsider.
If she’s always been the “smart Japanese girl” in America but is now the “dumb foreigner” in Japan, where is home...and who will Waka be when she finds it?
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.