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While I Was Away

4.62  ·  Rating details ·  61 ratings  ·  29 reviews
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 s
ebook, 320 pages
Published January 26th 2021 by Quill Tree Books
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Average rating 4.62  · 
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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 ...more
Jan 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021-longlist
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

trigger warnings for: bullying, child abuse, death of a family member, mentions of war, mentions of cancer
Ms. Yingling
Nov 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Kaela Noel
Feb 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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. ...more
Feb 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Animated bookstagram:

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
Mark Mcdevitt
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Tina Athaide
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Feb 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Terry Jennings
Feb 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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” ...more
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Nov 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
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
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! ...more
Feb 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sabrina Trung
Feb 07, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Jan 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 05, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kimaya Davis
*haven't read it yet* ...more
Jan 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Sep 29, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Sep 09, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Rebecca Petruck
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Molly Picardi
rated it really liked it
Dec 27, 2020
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