3 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, August 19, 2016!
A powerful novel-in-verse about how one teen boy survives the March 2011 tsunami that devastates his coastal Japanese village.
On that fateful day, Kai loses nearly everyone and everything he cares about. When he’s offered a trip to New York to meet kids whose lives were changed by 9/11, Kai realizes he also has a chance to look for his estranged American father. Visiting Ground Zero on its tenth anniversary, Kai learns that the only way to make something good come out of the disaster back home is to return there and help rebuild his town.
Heartrending yet hopeful, “Up from the Sea” is a story about loss, survival, and starting anew.
“Up from the Sea” touched me deeply with its beautiful message of hope and the resilience of humanity. Bravo. ” — Ellen Oh, author of “The Prophecy” series
“Readers who appreciate the power of sports, friendship, and family to heal will engage with this well-paced emotional journey.” Booklist
Exclusive interview with the author:
1) What inspired you to write this novel?
This is a novel I wish I’d never had to write, to be honest. I’ve lived in Japan for 15 years, and I was in Tokyo when the earthquake struck on March 11, 2011. Tokyo was shaking violently, and the threat of radiation was real and urgent, but we were safe compared to those on the coast, who had suffered a devastating tsunami. Many people fled Japan, and that was understandable given the threat of radiation, but I stayed with my Japanese husband, his elderly father, and our young son. As long as I was staying, I asked myself: how can I be of help? In the spring, I traveled to the disaster zone in Tohoku to do what I could. I didn’t plan to write a book at all.
But when I went to volunteer, I was inspired by the determination of a young boy I met in a coastal village who had lost his mother in the tsunami. I thought perhaps I could use my skills as a writer to tell these stories that might otherwise be forgotten. The people said: “Don’t forget about us.” So, I began to write “Up from the Sea” as a way to remember. To try to keep the light shining on the area as they continue to recover.
2) Why did you write this novel in verse?
To be honest, I hadn’t thought of writing a novel in verse. But I had published a few books of poetry, and had done my Masters Degree in creative writing on novels in verse, and was inspired by many Young Adult novels in verse, so the seed was lodged somewhere in my brain. But mainly, there were so many aftershocks in Japan at that time–almost 1000–and some were quite big (7.2 on the Richter scale) and it was hard to focus for long periods of time. Writing a novel requires uninterrupted time and focus, like running a marathon. I could only go for shorter stretches. I’d start to write, but then the shaking started and I’d have to dive under my desk. I was rattled in so many ways during this process, but more determined than ever to write and finish this book. There is nothing like a life-altering disaster to give you perspective and urgency. I could manage to write a poem or two at a time, so I decided to try to write the novel in verse, which lent more immediacy and emotional punch to the events. Also, my SCBWI Japan RA mentor, Holly Thompson, wrote two powerful young adult novels in verse which were very inspiring to me.
3) How much did you base Up from the Sea on from real life?
Inspired by a young boy I met in the disaster zone, I began to write Up from the Sea, a novel about a boy who loves soccer and creates a team to rally his town after the tsunami. Every day I wrote, recording the stories I heard and the things that I saw, which I wanted to use to keep the book as realistic as possible, without treading on anyone’s privacy. I was often in tears at my computer. Still, I pressed on. Months later, I discovered that exactly this had been done in coastal Onagawa. The team is the Cobaltore Onagawa Football Club. Supporters from all over the world helped in the difficult days following the disaster.
Later, I learned that a soccer ball belonging to a teenager in Rikuzentakata washed up in Alaska. Amazingly, the ball was found by a man with a Japanese wife who could read the messages written on it. The couple traced the owner and traveled to Japan to return the ball.
In June 2011, four Japanese high school students who lost their parents and family members in the tsunami, and university students whose parents had perished in the 1995 Great Hanshin earthquake in Kobe, Japan, flew to New York to raise awareness and money for the children of Tohoku orphaned in the March 11, 2011, disaster. Two American students, one who had lost her father in 9/11 and another who had lost his mother in Hurricane Katrina, joined efforts organized by the Ashinaga (“Daddy Long Legs”) NGO. I was deeply inspired by this story of survivors of tragedies in one country reaching out to survivors in another. I took creative liberty in imagining a meeting between children of 3/11 and children of 9/11 culminating in a visit to the National September 11 Memorial on the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
I was so inspired by these stories of people reaching out top help each other in times of need, beyond borders of culture or language–often across great distances.
4) We love to learn more about authors’ personal lives. What other hobbies and interests do you have?
I love yoga. For the past twelve years, I’ve run a yoga studio in Tokyo, in addition to writing. It’s a nice balance with the life of a writer, which is often solitary and “in the head.” Yoga is in the heart, and the body. Everything is a yoga, though. Writing is a yoga. Life is yoga. It helps me remain centered when things get out of control. And yes, life gets out of control. Yoga has helped me become more disciplined and focused. I couldn’t live without it. And chocolate.
5) Since becoming a writer, what’s the most exciting thing to ever happen to you?
Well, writing and publishing this book has been such an incredible journey. I’ve been able to talk to kids in schools all over Japan and the U.S. about helping each other in times of disaster, community service and volunteerism. The fifth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake has passed, and sadly, many are still struggling to recover from most powerful natural disaster in modern Japan. Kids get it–they understand that we are all connected, and they know that climate change is real and is having a dramatic impact on the environment. One 8-year-old boy raised over $3,000 to send to the tsunami area to help plant trees to make a natural sea wall. I’ve also been told that kids in Khazakistan are reading “Up from the Sea” and are planning to come to Japan. Books take on a life of their own. My dream was that this book would keep a light shining on the disaster area and help kids to realize that one person can make a difference in their community, like Kai does.
On another note, I’ve gotten some positive feedback about the verse form. Some young readers with short attention spans have found it to be engaging. I’ve also been told that some children with learning differences, such as dyslexia, have gotten hooked by this book and read it until the end, which was a first for them. They’d never read a book all the way through. And now they want to read more. This was such a joy to learn. It made all the years of effort and struggle so worth it.
About the author:
Leza Lowitz is the amazon #1 best-selling author of Up from the Sea, about a boy struggling to survive after a tsunami wipes out his town, and Jet Black & the Ninja Wind, an APALA Asian Pacific American Award-winning adventure where the last female ninja fights to save her sacred land. Lauded by luminaries such as Buzzfeed, Barnes & Noble, and her rescued dog Bingo, Lowitz lives to write– and writes to live. Visit Leza online at www.lezalowitz.com.
3 autographed copies will be given away on Friday, August 19, 2016.
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