What a great title! This novel, set in Seattle during World War II and 1986, follows Chinese American Henry Lee. Henry is twelve years old in 1942 and has recently had his parents tell him to speak only English. This is difficult as although Henry goes to an all white school on scholarship, his parents only speak Chinese. His father follows the war effort closely and has significant interest in seeing the Japanese defeated in China. He has Henry wear a button that states, “I am Chinese.”
In Seattle at the time Chinatown and Japantown were very close geographically but separate entities, and when a Japanese student, Keiko Okabe, starts at Henry’s school he is unsure what to make of her. They soon become good friends as they are both scholarship students and have to work together at the school. The story revolves around their growing friendship, Henry’s clashes with his dad over this friendship, and the impending internment of Keiko and her family.
I’ve read a few books about the impact of Japanese internment camps on Japanese Americans, including the novel Snow Falling on Cedars and more recently the non-fiction book Stubborn Twig. This novel addresses a few more issues I’ve never considered. There were thousands of Japanese Americans living in Seattle. How were they relocated? What happened to their property and their belongings? The descriptions of the temporary camp at the Puyallup Washington State Fairgrounds and the more permanent one in Minidoka, Idaho seem unreal.
The story of Henry as a young teen during World War II is interspersed with Henry’s life in 1986. He’s now widowed and has a college age son. Henry hears about belongings from World War II found in an old hotel and that starts him on a search to find out what happened to Keiko. I highly recommend this book. It is much more readable than Stubborn Twig and also gives some insight into what other ethnic groups felt about the Japanese relocation and internment.