Up From the Sea by Leza Lowitz

I’m really excited to share Leza Lowitz‘s book-in-verse Up From the Sea (2016, Crown) with you today!  The main character Kai is 17 years old, so this book might be geared more toward the young adult category, but I think middle grade students will enjoy this book, too!

Up From the Sea is a unique fictionalized tale about the real Japanese tsunami of March 2011 and how it impacts Kai’s family and community. The child of an absentee father even before the tsunami hits, Kai (who has an American father and a Japanese mother) loses his mom and grandparents in the natural disaster. Lowtiz weaves in a unique element to the book: a visit between survivors of Japan’s 3/11 tragedy and survivors of other tragedies, including America’s 9/11, in New York City on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

Here’s what I LOVE about this book:

(1) It’s a book-in-verse. There is just something about this way of telling a story that I love. A poet myself, I enjoy the way Lowitz moves her narrative along with sharp poems and really good lines. I especially love the poem “When I Wake Up” in which Kai realizes that he will always have his mom with him. Just beautiful!  Her poems have some pop to them, and I love this. Great energy!  I also love suggesting books-in-verse for struggling readers because the pages are not so overwhelmed with words. I also think books-in-verse make wonderful class read-alouds. We know that some boys are a bit resistant to poetry, but books like this one, Creech’s Love That Dog, and Booked, another book-in-verse that features soccer, offer boys strong narratives with male protagonists.

(2) Lowitz showcases people’s similarities. There’s no questioning that this book includes extreme loss. Kai feels utterly alone for a large portion of the text, but through his visit to NYC to meet other people who have experienced suffering, he and we are able to focus on one of the book’s main lessons: loss is the same everywhere. Lowitz takes survivors from different countries – survivors, of course, from countries who were sworn enemies in the past – and reveals a shared humanity between them.  Up From the Sea is a great choice for teachers and parents who are looking to share books with students that reveal our similarities rather than our differences.

(3) It does not end perfectly. Our students need exposure to books that do not end perfectly. Kai does not become reunited with all of his family members and live happily ever after. He has to make a decision at the end of the book and, ultimately, does not make the decision that some readers or he even thinks he might make. His final decision is one that demonstrates a certain maturity and one that reveals that he has reconciled with his identity and place. Books such as Listen, Slowly might complement wonderfully Up From the Sea. 

Let me know what you think about Up From the Sea in the comments below!  And please share this post with friends or colleagues!

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