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While I Was Away

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Blackbird Fly meets The Farewell in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to Japan, where she was sent as a child in the 1980s to reconnect to her family’s roots. When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand basic Japanese, they make the drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for severa Blackbird Fly meets The Farewell in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to Japan, where she was sent as a child in the 1980s to reconnect to her family’s roots. When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand basic Japanese, they make the 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?


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Blackbird Fly meets The Farewell in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to Japan, where she was sent as a child in the 1980s to reconnect to her family’s roots. When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand basic Japanese, they make the drastic decision to send her to Tokyo to live for severa Blackbird Fly meets The Farewell in this empowering middle grade memoir from debut author Waka T. Brown, who takes readers on a journey to Japan, where she was sent as a child in the 1980s to reconnect to her family’s roots. When twelve-year-old Waka’s parents suspect she can’t understand basic Japanese, they make the 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?

30 review for While I Was Away

  1. 5 out of 5

    Cindy

    One of my favorite things about mentoring for #PitchWars for several years was that I got the chance to read early pages from so many wonderful books that have gone on to get published. One of those was Waka T. Brown's beautiful middle grade memoir, WHILE I WAS AWAY, which tells the story of the five months she lived in Japan with her grandmother when she was twelve. Reading the opening chapters during PW, I was immediately intrigued by the story, and while I didn't go on to become Waka's mentor One of my favorite things about mentoring for #PitchWars for several years was that I got the chance to read early pages from so many wonderful books that have gone on to get published. One of those was Waka T. Brown's beautiful middle grade memoir, WHILE I WAS AWAY, which tells the story of the five months she lived in Japan with her grandmother when she was twelve. Reading the opening chapters during PW, I was immediately intrigued by the story, and while I didn't go on to become Waka's mentor, it's one of those books I've often thought of since. I was so thrilled when Waka asked if I was interested in reading an early copy of WHILE I WAS AWAY, which comes out on the 26th of this month. It ended up being my last read of 2020/first read of 2021, and when I finished it yesterday I closed the book with a satisfied sigh and a few tears, too. It's a beautifully written book. Waka does an amazing job of capturing all the different sides of her experience: the culture shock when her parents send her, alone, for an extended stay in a country she's only visited a few times previously; the relationship with her grandmother, which is nuanced and complex and manages to be endearing and lovely without being easy or comfortable; the fascinating details about what school life was like in Japan. Most of all, Waka has a deep talent for capturing the universal aspects of a unique experience. Whether kids have had an experience living somewhere other than their home country or not, they'll definitely resonate with the stories she tells about her struggles in a school where she feels confused and overwhelmed by the subjects taught, and the complicated politics and pressure of trying to figure out which friendships are worth cultivating and which friendships are tearing her down. Middle grade fans, definitely get yourself a copy of this one when it releases in a few weeks! It's a book that will linger with me for a long time.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kathie

    Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book. Wow. This 5 star nonfiction memoir by debut author Waka T. Brown is fascinating. Waka's mom is worried about how weak her Japanese is, so she decides to send Waka to Japan for 5 months to live with her grandmother and go to school to immerse herself in the language. Waka attended this school for a short period of time on a previous visit, but this time her May-October stay will mean she is expected to learn and participate as a r Thank you to Edelweiss+ and the publisher for an eARC of this book. Wow. This 5 star nonfiction memoir by debut author Waka T. Brown is fascinating. Waka's mom is worried about how weak her Japanese is, so she decides to send Waka to Japan for 5 months to live with her grandmother and go to school to immerse herself in the language. Waka attended this school for a short period of time on a previous visit, but this time her May-October stay will mean she is expected to learn and participate as a regular classmate rather than a special visitor. Waka is also expected to go by herself, and she's nervous about living alone with a grandmother whom she doesn't know well. During her stay, Waka not only learns more Japanese and how to write/speak it, but she also learns about her family and has a chance to know her relatives in new ways, especially her grandmother. There's such a unique voice to this story, which made it feel very original. Not only are there cultural difference between how Canadian and Japanese classmates interact, and how friendship groups are maintained, but I really appreciated seeing the ways in which Waka and her grandmother tried to find a way to coexist given their very different backgrounds. Though there are tender moments between them, I love the honest portrayal of trying to find a connection with someone who is family, but feels very distant. This will definitely be on my list of favorite reads for 2021.

  3. 5 out of 5

    cossette

    rtc! trigger warnings for: bullying, child abuse, death of a family member, mentions of war, mentions of cancer

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ms. Yingling

    E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus In this memoir, Waka's family has moved to the US from Japan, and although she was born in the US, her father is always saying that they will move back in three years. She has visited several times, since relatives still live there, but she is very much a 1980s American kid. Her parents, however, feel that her Japanese isn't as good as it should be, so they arrange for her to spend five months living with her grandmother and going to school in Japan. She's been to E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus In this memoir, Waka's family has moved to the US from Japan, and although she was born in the US, her father is always saying that they will move back in three years. She has visited several times, since relatives still live there, but she is very much a 1980s American kid. Her parents, however, feel that her Japanese isn't as good as it should be, so they arrange for her to spend five months living with her grandmother and going to school in Japan. She's been to school there before, briefly, so had made a few friends, but had attended an American school. Now, she will be going to a local one, so she will have to improve her Japanese. She's disappointed that she won't get to spend the summer with her friends, although they promise to write. When she first arrives, she stays with her aunt, uncle, and cousins, and very much enjoys being with them in their bustling household. When she moves in with her grandmother, who is 80, she has to deal with her grandmother's silence and strict rules. The grandmother's life has not been easy; her husband died, and she had to raise nine children during the war on a seamstress' salary. Waka spends little time at home anyway, and is quickly drawn into the drama of middle school. The girls are nice to her, giving her small charms for her backpack because she doesn't have any, but the boys called her "baka" (stupid) because she doesn't read well, and "gaijin" (foreigner). Her teacher is very understanding, protecting her from the students and giving her a lot of help and encouragement. The girls start to demand that Waka pick a "guruupu". She can't just play with everyone at recess or walk home with a friend from another class; she needs to pick a group of girls and hang out exclusively with them. The girls give her some time to decide, and help her navigate the sometimes difficult waters of Japanese social customs, such as attaching -san or -chan to someone's name. (But never to your own!) Used to being considered "a brain" in the US, Waka is determined to figure out writing with kanji, reading, and improving her conversational skills. She bonds slowly with her grandmother, hearing bits about the past and learning to sew. When her time in Japan is over, she is sad to leave, but feels that she learned a lot about her culture, her family's past, and her grandmother. Strengths: This was a brilliant combination of the familiar and the unusual. Waka has to struggle with drama similar to that which she would face in the US, but with added layers of cultural differences unique to Japan. She has to deal with academic work that is harder than it has been in the past while being considered a foreigner. Living away from home is always difficult, and her grandmother is different from the grandmothers she has experienced in the US. I love that letters are included, and that the process of sending and getting them is described. This was an integral part of being out of the country in the 1980s, and readers today will not understand the importance of a 30 cent aerogram or a care package of Twix! I was not surprised to read that the author based this book on some journals and letters she had from her trip. This has lots of good details, and some very true middle grade emotions! Weaknesses: The cover should have included some 1980s pop culture or that the very least, some bright colors of geometric designs. Maybe a back pack with those charms! Hello Kitty was a HUGE thing in the 1980s. What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and looking forward to recommending this to students who want to learn more about living in a different country. Chapman's All the Ways Home has been a steady circulator, so I am very excited about this memoir!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

    Waka T. Brown recounts the 5 month journey she went on as a 6th grader to her family's home country of Japan in this nuanced and beautiful middle grade memoir. This book also serves as Brown's debut book, although with its rich descriptions and melodic pacing, it certainly feels as through the author has been writing for a very long time. Waka is sent to live with her grandmother after her parents show concern in her ability to communicate in Japanese. As a first generation American, Waka is caug Waka T. Brown recounts the 5 month journey she went on as a 6th grader to her family's home country of Japan in this nuanced and beautiful middle grade memoir. This book also serves as Brown's debut book, although with its rich descriptions and melodic pacing, it certainly feels as through the author has been writing for a very long time. Waka is sent to live with her grandmother after her parents show concern in her ability to communicate in Japanese. As a first generation American, Waka is caught between the American culture in which she lives in and the Japanese culture her family is from. As to be expected of a 12 year old who has been told she will miss out on part of 6th and 7th grade to go to a public Japanese school, Waka is initially upset at her parent's decision to send her to her grandmother in Japan. When I first read the book, I was expecting the story to fall in place accordingly: Waka dislikes Japan and feels ostracized, but then makes friends, learns to love her grandmother, and then does not want to leave. What I received was a story that was much more nuanced. While Waka learns more about her grandmother and makes a few friends, there is an even greater focus on how Waka herself grows from the journey. Her friendships and connections made in Japan are realistic and memorable. Waka's teacher in Japan is patient and caring, making Waka feel welcome despite unruly students in the class. Children form cliques with each other, and Waka must decide who she truly wants to consider a friend on her own. There are plenty of relationships in the book to think about and delve into, and the book definitely feels true and not-larger-than-life. The most interesting relationship in the book is certainly between Waka and her grandmother. Waka hears stories about her grandmother being harsh and favoring boys before she is even on Japanese soil. Waka is unsure about the rumors as well as being away from other people her age at home. When Waka arrives, their relationship is often shown with awkward silences and downtime. As the story progresses, Waka slowly learns more about her grandmother's life. Waka and her grandmother's relationship are not perfect. Some exchanges lead to arguments and hurt feelings. Despite this, there is an undeniable (yet unspoken) love the two foster for each other throughout the book. This relationship felt incredibly realistic considering the personalities of the author and her grandmother, and I appreciated that the complexity of the relationship wasn't simplified for a happier middle grade ending. Other aspects that I appreciated was the fact the story did not follow a traditional three act structure like Westernized novels typically are. Instead, Brown lets the story meander and float like the flower petals mentioned in the story. Waka is a wandering spirit, trying to make sense of where she fits in the world. While I was Away is a lovely and realistic story of a girl who learns more about her language, culture, and family by returning to her parents' home country. As life changing as a 5 month journey to another country would be for anyone, it doesn't answer all of Waka's struggles and questions about the world around her. The story ends with Waka returning home to America, with a sense that she is changed, and must still decide who she is. If this book peaks your interest, please make sure to preorder this book or pick it up at your local bookstore on January 26th, 2021. Thank you to NetGalley and HarperCollins for giving me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kaela Noel

    Wow. This book is a masterpiece. It deserves all the stars and all the awards, and the widest possible readership. If you enjoy extremely well-written books with a vivid sense of place, nuanced characterization, and wonderful detail (and humor!), do not miss this one! Some things I just loved about it: -Waka’s character is deeply likable. She’s goodhearted in a realistic way, quite perceptive, and wise, and she has a real backbone and solid sense of right and wrong. She’s soulful, upbeat, and cle Wow. This book is a masterpiece. It deserves all the stars and all the awards, and the widest possible readership. If you enjoy extremely well-written books with a vivid sense of place, nuanced characterization, and wonderful detail (and humor!), do not miss this one! Some things I just loved about it: -Waka’s character is deeply likable. She’s goodhearted in a realistic way, quite perceptive, and wise, and she has a real backbone and solid sense of right and wrong. She’s soulful, upbeat, and clear-eyed. She deals with several different sticky interpersonal situations in a way that I found inspiring and believable, even if the outcomes are ultimately bittersweet. -There is not the slightest whiff of anything pedantic or patronizing in the book or its tone. It doesn’t talk down, it doesn’t feel like it is trying to be “educational,” it is just authentic, richly detailed, and respectful of the intelligence and curiosity of readers. -WHILE I WAS AWAY is also one of the rare memoirs that is accessible to kids while also truly being for all ages, including adults. And it reads like a novel. -The 1980s details are vivid and realistic, for both the Kansas and Japanese settings. I loved the inclusion of Japanese phrases (they are translated every time) and specific details about day-to-day life in 1980s Tokyo and the structure of the Japanese school system. It’s fascinating and very engaging to read about. I am blown away by Waka T. Brown’s talent and cannot wait for her next book!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mia Pia (mia.pia.reads IG)

    I was so excited to win this book! It is one that hits home for me. My Grandparents made a very similar journey back to Japan in the 1920s. I felt like I was learning about them through the book, and that meant a lot to me. I read through this one fast. I didn't want to put it down. Also very relatable to be in the middle of two cultures. I'm glad this book talks about this. There is so much to pick up between these pages. I loved it. Really really thankful to have read this. I was so excited to win this book! It is one that hits home for me. My Grandparents made a very similar journey back to Japan in the 1920s. I felt like I was learning about them through the book, and that meant a lot to me. I read through this one fast. I didn't want to put it down. Also very relatable to be in the middle of two cultures. I'm glad this book talks about this. There is so much to pick up between these pages. I loved it. Really really thankful to have read this.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christina

    Animated bookstagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CLXquWdAZ... Revisiting the 1980’s and recalling memories from journals and letters, Waka T. Brown’s memoir, WHILE I WAS AWAY, vividly tells her story as a twelve-year-old navigating five months in Japan attending school to learn the Japanese language and alphabet. Waka learns so much more than this of course as she stays with her grandmother who has her own, difficult story to tell. I enjoyed the exploration of their relationship and the honest f Animated bookstagram: https://www.instagram.com/p/CLXquWdAZ... Revisiting the 1980’s and recalling memories from journals and letters, Waka T. Brown’s memoir, WHILE I WAS AWAY, vividly tells her story as a twelve-year-old navigating five months in Japan attending school to learn the Japanese language and alphabet. Waka learns so much more than this of course as she stays with her grandmother who has her own, difficult story to tell. I enjoyed the exploration of their relationship and the honest feelings Waka shares about trying to please her Obaasama and show respect while following her strict rules. Brown’s experiences in her new school had plenty of relatable moments of friendship drama and the Japanese writing system was fascinating to me. I appreciated the examples in the book as Waka was challenged with writing and reading it under the high expectations of her teacher. Waka narrates her story with sincerity (with humor as well) and readers will be empathetic to her anxieties and struggles to find acceptance into two cultures. Enlightening and heartfelt, WHILE I WAS AWAY is a special coming of age story about family and connection that spans the globe.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mark Mcdevitt

    I read an ARC of this YA book and greatly enjoyed it (as an adult male). Part memoir, part travelogue, part portrait of her beloved grandmother – the author takes us on a coming-of-age journey that is funny and sweet and very charming. The ending carries some emotional weight as Waka leaves Japan to come home, and the loving portrait that emerges of Obaasama (the grandmother) is both fascinating and unsparing. A nice ancillary benefit was learning some proper Japanese language usage — the san, c I read an ARC of this YA book and greatly enjoyed it (as an adult male). Part memoir, part travelogue, part portrait of her beloved grandmother – the author takes us on a coming-of-age journey that is funny and sweet and very charming. The ending carries some emotional weight as Waka leaves Japan to come home, and the loving portrait that emerges of Obaasama (the grandmother) is both fascinating and unsparing. A nice ancillary benefit was learning some proper Japanese language usage — the san, chan, sama, kun suffixes now make a little more sense. And I now know Japanese word for the Virgin Mary (Maria-sama!). A triumph of a debut for Waka T. Brown. Can’t wait for the next one!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Steph

    It’s only February, but I’m sure While I Was Away will be one of my top 2021 picks even when the year wraps up. This middle grade memoir tells the story of the author’s life-changing experience as a child, when she spent months in Japan getting to know her roots, family, & a different part of herself. It’s absolutely beautiful.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Twelve-year-old Waka is a typical American tween. She does well in school and has lots of friends. Unfortunately, her Japanese-born parents have decided that she's a little too American. She doesn't understand many of the Japanese phrases her parents use and she's unable to read or write in Japanese. Her parents decide to send her to Japan for a time to attend school and stay with relatives. Waka feels like her life is over, but in many ways, it's just begun. School is difficult; instead of bein Twelve-year-old Waka is a typical American tween. She does well in school and has lots of friends. Unfortunately, her Japanese-born parents have decided that she's a little too American. She doesn't understand many of the Japanese phrases her parents use and she's unable to read or write in Japanese. Her parents decide to send her to Japan for a time to attend school and stay with relatives. Waka feels like her life is over, but in many ways, it's just begun. School is difficult; instead of being the smart kid, she is the dumb foreigner. Her relationship with her Obaasama is complicated by differences in age, culture, and personality. This book is a memoir, and the similarities between Waka and her classmates are surprising. Twelve-year-olds have differences, but they also have a lot in common. Waka works hard and learns as time goes on. When it is time to go back to Kansas, she knows a part of her will always stay in Japan. This book may help tweens have compassion for others who appear different. If so, it will have done something very important. This is a wonderful, highly readable book and will be a valuable addition to any middle grade or public library Thank you to NetGalley for a free ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tina Athaide

    Feeling like a dumb Japanese, Waka's anxieties are entirely relatable when she finds herself shipped off to Japan, during summer holidays, so she can connect to her family's roots. Things only get worse as she struggles with reading and writing, and relating to the other students. Waka has never felt more like an outsider. Based on her own personal experiences, Waka T. Brown's middle grade book shares an empowering message about the importance of family, belonging, and cultural ties. Thank you N Feeling like a dumb Japanese, Waka's anxieties are entirely relatable when she finds herself shipped off to Japan, during summer holidays, so she can connect to her family's roots. Things only get worse as she struggles with reading and writing, and relating to the other students. Waka has never felt more like an outsider. Based on her own personal experiences, Waka T. Brown's middle grade book shares an empowering message about the importance of family, belonging, and cultural ties. Thank you NetGalley and publishers for the e-arc.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Read the World Better

    WHILE I WAS AWAY is a fantastic memoir from Waka T brown about the summer she reconnects with her Japanese roots when she was 12. Waka was forced by her parents to leave Kansas and her friends and sent to live with her grandmother in Tokyo to improve her Japanese language, but she faces a huge culture shock. My 11 year-old daughter really enjoyed and connected with Waka in this book because she has faced similar experiences of living in different countries and the struggles to learn Chinese and c WHILE I WAS AWAY is a fantastic memoir from Waka T brown about the summer she reconnects with her Japanese roots when she was 12. Waka was forced by her parents to leave Kansas and her friends and sent to live with her grandmother in Tokyo to improve her Japanese language, but she faces a huge culture shock. My 11 year-old daughter really enjoyed and connected with Waka in this book because she has faced similar experiences of living in different countries and the struggles to learn Chinese and communicate with her grandparents whose first language isn’t English. She particularly liked the style of writing and the mouth watering descriptions of food, which made her hungry. I heard her laugh out loud while reading this and she would often come to me to read out load passages. she rated this a 5 ⭐️ read!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I loved this memoir! A witty and relatable read that took me back to my own middle school memories ( even though I did not get an enforced "study abroad" experience at the age of 12). Waka offered an honest look at the challenges of relating across cultures, and between generations as she navigates her time in Japan while living with her obaasama. I also really enjoyed the use of Japanese sprinkled throughout the book. As a former student of Japanese I could relate to the struggles of learning k I loved this memoir! A witty and relatable read that took me back to my own middle school memories ( even though I did not get an enforced "study abroad" experience at the age of 12). Waka offered an honest look at the challenges of relating across cultures, and between generations as she navigates her time in Japan while living with her obaasama. I also really enjoyed the use of Japanese sprinkled throughout the book. As a former student of Japanese I could relate to the struggles of learning kanji, and how challenging and overwhelming it is at times, but also how great it feels to realize you can finally read Japanese.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alison Fincher

    I wish While I Was Away had been labeled and written as a memoir. I would have been more forgiving of some of its more awkward attempts to make the setting clearly in the 1980s. The end of the book was much nuanced than I expected. It dealt well with Obasaama's trauma without excusing the way that trauma played into her treatment of her children and grandchildren. Waka's character developed in an age-appropriate and satisfying way. Overall, if read more as a memoir than a novel, While I Was Away I wish While I Was Away had been labeled and written as a memoir. I would have been more forgiving of some of its more awkward attempts to make the setting clearly in the 1980s. The end of the book was much nuanced than I expected. It dealt well with Obasaama's trauma without excusing the way that trauma played into her treatment of her children and grandchildren. Waka's character developed in an age-appropriate and satisfying way. Overall, if read more as a memoir than a novel, While I Was Away is an interesting new addition to the return literature genre.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Terry Jennings

    Six or seventh grader Waka (it depends on whether you think in terms of American Schools or Japanese schools) is sent to Japan by her parents in the early eighties so she can learn Japanese and appreciate her heritage. She does that. But what Waka does so effectively is to show the experience of an immigrant child. A child who has been plucked from one culture and dropped in another. She shows it through the lens of a Japanese American going to Japan which makes us realize that treating “others” Six or seventh grader Waka (it depends on whether you think in terms of American Schools or Japanese schools) is sent to Japan by her parents in the early eighties so she can learn Japanese and appreciate her heritage. She does that. But what Waka does so effectively is to show the experience of an immigrant child. A child who has been plucked from one culture and dropped in another. She shows it through the lens of a Japanese American going to Japan which makes us realize that treating “others” badly, is, unfortunately something that is not confined to one country or culture.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Molly

    This book made me smile. I went to high school with Waka, and met her a few years after this book took place. Reading about real people and places I grew up with and seeing them before I knew them was a treat. Although, I can't imagine Eric as a second chair trumpet. I don't think that ever happened again. I did see Waka how she described herself in the book: the brain, the trumpet player, driver of the banana-mobile, and just a little cooler than me. This book made me smile. I went to high school with Waka, and met her a few years after this book took place. Reading about real people and places I grew up with and seeing them before I knew them was a treat. Although, I can't imagine Eric as a second chair trumpet. I don't think that ever happened again. I did see Waka how she described herself in the book: the brain, the trumpet player, driver of the banana-mobile, and just a little cooler than me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Journey

    While I Was Away was an astounding book that took me out of my own thoughts and worries and brought me directly into 12-year-old Waka's life. Being shipped across the globe to live in her parents' home country with only her Obaasama (grandmother), Waka has to deal with getting to know a completely new country, learning to read Japanese, and trying to fit in among middle school drama with cliques and more. This memoir was an incredible read and is highly recommended to all--not just kids. While I Was Away was an astounding book that took me out of my own thoughts and worries and brought me directly into 12-year-old Waka's life. Being shipped across the globe to live in her parents' home country with only her Obaasama (grandmother), Waka has to deal with getting to know a completely new country, learning to read Japanese, and trying to fit in among middle school drama with cliques and more. This memoir was an incredible read and is highly recommended to all--not just kids.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley A lovely memoir about walking in two cultures and being a fish out of water who learns to swim...Waka T. Brown's While I Was Away offers readers a window into 1980's Japan and what it is to live in a culture that's totally familiar yet views you as different. When 6th grader Waka's parents send her to Japan to live with her grandmother and improve her Japanese language skills, it feels like a punishment. There couldn't be a worse time to be separated fr ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley A lovely memoir about walking in two cultures and being a fish out of water who learns to swim...Waka T. Brown's While I Was Away offers readers a window into 1980's Japan and what it is to live in a culture that's totally familiar yet views you as different. When 6th grader Waka's parents send her to Japan to live with her grandmother and improve her Japanese language skills, it feels like a punishment. There couldn't be a worse time to be separated from your friends and everything that's familiar. But the experience turns into an opportunity to learn more about her family, herself, and how both Japanese and American cultures shape her view of the world. I loved that Brown included visual examples of shuuji, Japanese calligraphy, and explained a little bit about kanji, hiragana and how the language works. That said, this is 6th/7th grade and it's not always pretty -- there's teasing and bullying, having to choose between friend groups, and even an episode where her grandmother accuses her of lying and locks her out of the house. Waka is direct about sharing her thoughts and feelings about all of these things with the reader. And I loved that in the end she reflects on the entire experience and what she learned, rather than leaving it open-ended.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Wonderful middle-grade memoir. The writing style and voice seemed authentic to a young narrator, which made the book very relatable, and I think kids would enjoy reading about Waka's experiences. Great book to show empathy and the value of soaking in and learning to understand another culture. Highly recommend! Wonderful middle-grade memoir. The writing style and voice seemed authentic to a young narrator, which made the book very relatable, and I think kids would enjoy reading about Waka's experiences. Great book to show empathy and the value of soaking in and learning to understand another culture. Highly recommend!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    An enjoyable, delightfully and insightful story of an American girl in Japan. Though born of Japanese parents, Waka is Armenian through and through. The story is rich, detailed and flows beautifully. You are caught up in her tale from early on. Honestly, i couldn't put out down. Even choosing to finish reading it over sleeping. Highly recommend to all ages. An enjoyable, delightfully and insightful story of an American girl in Japan. Though born of Japanese parents, Waka is Armenian through and through. The story is rich, detailed and flows beautifully. You are caught up in her tale from early on. Honestly, i couldn't put out down. Even choosing to finish reading it over sleeping. Highly recommend to all ages.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sabrina Trung

    I loved this. Waka was so relatable and charming, it wasn't hard to get swept up in her story. It truly touched my heart, hearing about the relationship she had with her obaasan, and her fond (and not so fond) memories of school in Japan. Read this in one sitting, it was impossible to put down. I loved this. Waka was so relatable and charming, it wasn't hard to get swept up in her story. It truly touched my heart, hearing about the relationship she had with her obaasan, and her fond (and not so fond) memories of school in Japan. Read this in one sitting, it was impossible to put down.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Stacie

    This is a really delightful memoir, though bittersweet at the end as the author says goodbye to her Japanese friend and neighbor. Highly recommend, particularly for the examination of friendships.

  24. 5 out of 5

    HIRANNYA

    Good

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kimaya Davis

    *haven't read it yet* *haven't read it yet*

  26. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Thanks #NetGalley for the early copy! I can't wait to share this story with my students. It'll give them the opportunity to experience a different culture and time. Thanks #NetGalley for the early copy! I can't wait to share this story with my students. It'll give them the opportunity to experience a different culture and time.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    Waka T. Brown tells a well-crafted story of the summer she spent in Japan with her grandmother, attending school in the hopes that her Japanese language skills would improve. Through her twelve-year-old eyes, we learn what it's like to feel split between two cultures as Waka navigates the complex social rules in her grandmother's house and at her new school. Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC. Waka T. Brown tells a well-crafted story of the summer she spent in Japan with her grandmother, attending school in the hopes that her Japanese language skills would improve. Through her twelve-year-old eyes, we learn what it's like to feel split between two cultures as Waka navigates the complex social rules in her grandmother's house and at her new school. Thank you, NetGalley, for the ARC.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    While I Was Away is an emotional memoir which reflects on a time in the author's life spanning only a few months but which clearly had a lasting impact on her. Young Waka was sent to live with her grandmother in Japan for several months to attend school in Japan and, her parents hope, to improve her Japanese. While she is sure this will be the worst experience of her life, it ends up being educational and valuable, with a range of positive and negative events. It took me a little while to get in While I Was Away is an emotional memoir which reflects on a time in the author's life spanning only a few months but which clearly had a lasting impact on her. Young Waka was sent to live with her grandmother in Japan for several months to attend school in Japan and, her parents hope, to improve her Japanese. While she is sure this will be the worst experience of her life, it ends up being educational and valuable, with a range of positive and negative events. It took me a little while to get into this book, but I ended up reading the second half in one sitting. Brown really pulls the reader into feeling how she felt as a child: neglected by her parents, left behind by her friends back home, unwanted by an old friend in Japan, angry and scared after a particularly upsetting experience with her grandmother, and so on (regardless of whether these were true from, say, the side of her parents, who certainly weren't trying to get rid of her). But beyond these, she also describes a lot of positive experiences which show a happier side of her time in Japan, from playing with cousins and a neighbor to buying things at Japanese stationary stores. I do wish the author's note had been at the beginning of the book. Brown makes a good point about memory not always being accurate, but that she tried her best to write events as they really happened. She also described (briefly) how things have changed in terms of punishment in schools both in the U.S. and in Japan since the 1980s and introduces some Japanese pronunciations. I think it would be helpful for kids to have this information in mind as they read the book, rather than afterwards. Overall, I found this to be a well-written, worthwhile read, and I think kids in the target age who read it will relate to Waka's experiences. Thanks to Netgalley and Quill Tree Books for the e-ARC.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca Petruck

    WHILE I WAS AWAY is a fun, thoughtful, and touching invitation to experience another culture. Students and educators will love to talk about the differences between American and Japanese school. The challenges of learning to read and write the thousands of characters in Japanese vs. English's 26 letters. And laugh--and empathize--with Waka who in America was a short, straight-A student but in Japan was suddenly a "big, dumb jock." Add in the vulnerability Waka shares in exploring her relationshi WHILE I WAS AWAY is a fun, thoughtful, and touching invitation to experience another culture. Students and educators will love to talk about the differences between American and Japanese school. The challenges of learning to read and write the thousands of characters in Japanese vs. English's 26 letters. And laugh--and empathize--with Waka who in America was a short, straight-A student but in Japan was suddenly a "big, dumb jock." Add in the vulnerability Waka shares in exploring her relationship with her grandmother, and this memoir is the whole package. Truly a must-share with middle grade readers. <3

  30. 4 out of 5

    Molly Picardi

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