For Ages
10 to 99

After years of discomfort as the only Chinese student at her private middle school, Emily transfers to Chinatown's I.S. 23 for 8th Grade and ends up feeling more disconnected than ever. In this coming-of-age novel-in-verse, will Emily be able to find her way or will she lose herself completely?

After a year of distance-learning, Emily Sofer finds her world turned upside down: she has to leave the only school she's ever known to attend a public school in Chinatown. For the first time, Emily isn't the only Chinese student around...but looking like everyone else doesn't mean that understanding them will be easy--especially with an intimidating group of cool girls Emily calls The Five.

When Emily discovers that her adoptive parents have been keeping a secret, she feels even more uncertain about who she is. A chance discovery of Emily Dickinson's poetry helps her finally feel seen. . . but can the words of a writer from 200 years ago help her open up again, and find common ground with the Five?

An Excerpt fromAre You Nobody Too?

I’m Nobody

I’m nobody! Who are you?
Ms. Franklin wrote      on the whiteboard
Um, you’re Ms. Franklin      the class laughed
And you already know who we are!

That was back      in seventh grade
at the Meadowlake School      where Ms. Franklin
smiled and swung      her long red hair      back over
her shoulder      before reading us      this poem
about a frog in a bog      she said was about
being humble      not seeking attention

She also made      some connection
to social media      how everyone wants
to be liked or seen      all the time      but how
that’s not      the meaning of life      how true happiness
comes from inside      and from relationships

I Understood

What Ms. Franklin      meant at the time
but it really      made sense to me      once I started
going to I.S. 23      where I want      to be seen
but also wish      I were a little bit     invisible
like a lunar eclipse      fully present
but also masked      by shadow

It Should Have Been Easy

To respond      to Ms. Franklin’s writing prompt
about      What it means to be person      but it wasn’t
I don’t remember      what I wrote      or if I even wrote
anything at all      I do remember      a strong feeling

Rising inside of me      like my heart
was full      but not      in a joyful way
I couldn’t think      of what to say
my head felt heavy      as if filled with lead
my hands got sweaty      just holding my pen

My palms smelled      metallic like they did
when I was little      after swinging      on the monkey bars
in Washington Square Park      back when life
felt less complex      just one hand      after the other
after the next      the other one      after that


One interesting fact      about me      is that
I learned to read      when I was three
not because      I am a genius      but because
I was afraid      of animals      the stuffed kind
with cold button eyes      that stared at me
as I lay      in my playpen or crib

Their plush fur      and floppy ears
didn’t comfort me      the way my parents did
so Mom and Dad      put books      in my bed instead
and I clung to them      the way other kids
cuddle teddy bears      bunnies and giraffes


Each night      I’d fall asleep
with a book      tucked under my cheek
Yum Yum Dim Sum      or some board book
about Lunar New Year      or how to do kung fu
anything Chinese      because even then
my parents      were trying      to show me
how to be      more how I looked


My parents      still laugh
about the first time      they saw me
turning pages      with my chubby thumbs
sounding out      words like

     Cat      Mat      Sat      Hat

in books      by Dr. Seuss
I was only three      but they could see
I was teaching myself      how to read

Baby Like Me

It blew my mind!      Mom always says
It blew everyone’s mind!      Dad always
chimes in      it’s true      not many people
know a child      who learned      to read
at the age of three      especially      an adopted baby
like me      who spent      her first months
hearing Chinese      in an orphanage      in Beijing

Someplace Far Away

Even today      we three laugh      about the time
my parents      first saw me      swaddled
in a red silk quilt      pumping my plump legs
like I was biking      to the moon      or someplace
far away      as New York      the city where
I have lived      ever since      Mom and Dad
brought me home      from China


That was back when      I still had      rosy cheeks
round as the mooncake      I find waiting for me
on a plate      a Post-it stuck      to its rim:

    See you at 8!

     xo Mom

On days      when she has      a late meeting
my mom      always leaves me      something sweet
from the deli      on the corner      or from her favorite
bakery in Chinatown      Hop Wen      close to
the Community College of Lower Manhattan
where she teaches      American literature


Flicking Mom’s note      into the trash
I rip open      a fresh package of Oreos
kick my Dr. Martens off      toward the corner
of the kitchen      and call for Keeper

It’s a long minute      before I hear
Keeper’s tags jingle      faint like
a distant wind chime      as he grunts
to get up      from his bed      by the bathroom
his brittle claws      clicking across
the wide planks      of our soft wood floor

Here, Keeps

I whistle      shoving a cookie      too fast
into my face      I am starving!      I think
then wince      as the rough Oreo edge
scrapes the roof      of my mouth

Here, Keeps      I repeat      worrying the scuff
with my tongue      while he waddles over
tail ticking      slow as a metronome      his whole body
winding down      like a worn-out clock


Keeper snuffles down      the cookie I hold out
in a single gulp      his watery brown eyes
widen with surprise      from the sudden
rush of sugar      before he shuffles over
to his other bed      beneath the kitchen table

Old as he is Keeper      is still      the only dog we know
able to eat cocoa      and not die      our whole family
jokes it’s the Oreos      that are keeping him alive
but we don’t laugh      as hard      about that one
as we used to      careful now      about not jinxing him

Spent by the effort      Keeper closes his eyes
and sighs      fluttering the cloth      above his head
with a puff of warm breat     h as his ears twitch
their way      into the drift      of a dream

Keeper and Me

Keeper and me      share a lot of things
like pillows      and cookies      and when
no one’s looking      dinner      but that
happens      less and less frequently
these days      Keeper mostly sleeps
and me      I am usually busy      dealing
with life      at my new school

Keeper and Me

Keeper and me      share a lot of things
like how      we got our names      mine came
from Emily Bronte      my mom’s favorite author
and Keeper was named      for Emily Bronte’s dog

A loyal mastiff      said to be      stout and strong
as a wild boar      he was probably      still no match
for the puppy version of Keeps      who even as a beagle
acted bigger than he was      always erupting with joy
like a wind-up toy      you can’t turn off


Keep’s been acting      a lot like me
a little more quiet      than usual
a little more lost      in thought
about simple things      like snacks
and relaxing      or complicated stuff
like life and death      or making friends
which I never really      had to think about
until now

A Dog’s Life

The expression      a dog’s life     is supposed
to mean boring      and monotonous      but that
could also be      a kid’s life      especially mine

Back during      the early part      of the pandemic
when middle school was      school-in-the-middle-of-my-room
where I sat      six hours a day      on my bed
as if marooned      on an island      in a sea of worksheets

My dad always      not knocking      and opening my door
to ask      how I was doing      me always      hissing Fine
waving him away      out of frame      so my classmates
wouldn’t see him      checking up on me      like a freak


It was freakish      when the pandemic hit
Dad lost his job      almost overnight      at The Village Herald
where he’d worked      since before I was born
he said he’d been      half expecting it      for as long
as he could remember      but like Keeper
The Herald always      just seemed to hold on

It was weird      to suddenly have my dad      hanging around
looking like      he didn’t know      what to do      with himself
no longer needed      to rush to the scene      of a speech
or a crash      or a crime      he had a lot of time      on his hands

It’s hard even now      to understand      how everything
felt so fast      but also painfully slow      for months
we didn’t always know      what day it was
for months      it didn’t always      seem to matter

I See Now

I can see now      that Dad was kind      of depressed
the way      he became obsessed      with taking daily
portraits of me and Mom      like if he didn’t record
all the small changes in us      he would fail
to see      some big shift      before it came

How each night      he’d stand      on our fire escape
snapping dozens      of pointless photos
of the moon      as it waxed and waned
Looks pretty much the same     I’d say
No way    Dad would reply      Look again
She’s completely different today

What He Sees

Capturing what he sees      Mom explained to me
is how your dad      understands the world    I get that
but for a while      I found it      extremely annoying
actually      intrusive is the word      I would use

But since      I didn’t refuse      his daily portraits
there’s lots      of shots of me      making a face
or rolling my eyes      which always      made Dad
flash a smile      which is partly why      I let him

Fate of the Earth

With the fate      of the Earth      so uncertain
the sight of my dad’s      passionate expression
as he’s holding his camera      and the light
in his face      when he’s taking a photo
make the world      feel like a safer place

It’s no wonder      I’ve kept      a picture of him
like that      in my mind      sometimes I find
you don’t need      a camera      to remember
the important things      you’ve seen