Summary: Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family.
How could you possibly handle the subject of the relocation camps that imprisoned thousands of Japanese-Americans during World War II in a way that children can understand, without it become bleak or hopeless?
Yet Sepahban manages it with quiet grace, giving us the story of Manami, a 10-year-old girl who is imprisoned with her family in the California desert. Traumatized by the experience and fiercely missing the dog she was forced to leave behind, Manami refuses to speak, grieving even as her family members find a place in the society of the camp. Sepahan doesn’t focus on politics or wars – the only details of that are in her concise and informative author’s note – but Manami’s narration, so lithe and lyrical that it stops just short of verse, places the reader in the camp beside her, offering a visceral sense of place and time that all the facts in the world could not convey.
This is a beautiful book that sheds light on a shameful part of America’s past.
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