Summary: Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror. This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.
Yes, this is a story about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and that makes it a much-needed entry into children’s literature. But Burkinshaw does something much more than just give readers a child’s-eye view of a horrific event: in this sensitive novel, inspired by events in her own mother’s life, she plops readers right in the middle of the joys and sorrows, the friendships and messy realities and sometimes petty rivalries of Yuriko’s childhood. The foreboding losses of war (and the government propaganda that insists Japan is winning, always winning – chilling to read in our current politic landscape) are threaded throughout the narrative, but when the pika don (literally “flash boom”) comes, it is a shock to the reader as much as it is to Yuriko. Because really, who could ever anticipate such horror? The aftermath of the atomic bomb is handled in a straightforward but not overly graphic manner, and the focus is always kept on Yuriko’s story, as it should be. In this slim volume, Burkinshaw takes an historical event that is too large for most of us to wrap our minds around and brings it to the scale we can all understand: the effect on the life of a character we have come to care about. Like the cherry blossoms that bloomed in the year after the bombing, defying all the odds, Yuriko learns how to find hope and courage in the ashes.
THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM is out now.