This is a book that I remembered seeing in Barnes and Noble and Borders a lot when it first came out. I never quite knew why we never picked it up. I think it was on the “I’ll get around to it,” list for a while.
Anyway, I’m glad I got around to it. Much like The Stationary Shop last weekend, this is another story of first love disrupted by reality intruding on the sweet bubble of teenagerdom, and the way life goes it’s own way, growing in around those cracks.
As I said last week. This is a theme that I’m very very fond of. This time, the world that’s disrupted is the Asian community of Seattle, Washington in the 1940s.
Henry Lee is the child of Chinese immigrants, who are strongly nationalist Chinese, but they want their son to be as American as possible, without forgetting who he is and where he came from. Such a delicate balance for immigrants. Henry is the only Asian kid at his school, until one day, Keiko Okanabe, a seceond generation Japanese American girl joins his class.
Keiko and Henry bond over art, and their outsider status and jazz. It’s touching and innocent and lovely and then of course everything falls apart. Henry’s father doesn’t approve of his friendship with a Japanese girl. And then of course, Keiko and her family are interred.
If you don’t know about Japanese internment, I really don’t know what to say to you. I’ve been darkly fascinated by this very dark chapter of our national history since I was twelve and it’s well worth researching if only so you can know how easy it is for people to turn against their neighbors. (BTW, Disband ICE, close the camps, ETC.)
In the 80’s the Panama Hotel, where Keiko and her family stored their valuables during internment is reopened and Henry goes looking for a gift, a secret, and in turn comes to understand himself, his past and his son.
Seriously, I love this sort of book and this was a very good version of it. I suggest picking it up.
Up next is Cavedon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford, I picked this up before Downton Abbey was a dud, but I’ll still disappear into the fading glamour of the between wars era in Britain. I’ll always go there. Every time.