Monday, September 25, 2017

Paper Wishes - Lois Sepahban

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. (image and synopsis from goodreads.com)

My Review: I stumbled upon this book while looking through an old list of recommended books I'd received last year.  The premise intrigued me, and so I hurried to check it out.

This story was a quick read, well written and touching.  I knew about the Japanese relocations camps during WWII (even know someone who was in the camp at Topaz), but didn't really know much more than that.

History is stained with sad and tragic events that more often that not affect innocent people.  What I loved about this book was it took a difficult subject--how anyone of Japanese descent was placed in desert camps to wait out the war for fear they would spy for the enemy--and placed it in the eyes of the most innocent, a child.  And a vulnerable child at that.

Manami is not allowed to bring her dog when her family is relocated, and her poor Yujjin is ripped away from her, sending her into a state where she refuses to speak.  Not so much refuses as she feels her throat is caked and coated with the dust of the desert land her family is sent to, and she simply can't anymore.

Each chapter relates a month spent in the camp, going over the logistics of living there, how different the harsh desert land is from the lush wet coast where Manami used to live, school with her insightful and kind teacher, her confusion that anyone with a face like hers must be locked away, her older brother's attempts to make life better, and the dogs Manami sees cropping up that only remind her of her lost Yujiin.

Manami's connection with Yujiin was strong (and a particular strong point with me--I love children-dog relationship stories), and also the namesake of the book.  In hopes that she can reach her dog again, she draws pictures of Yujiin, sending them to the wind and hoping he will see them and come find her.  These paper wishes, along with other drawings she makes for her kind teacher Miss Rosalie, help her through her dark and scary time, the art helping her remember her old life, helping her to cope, and helping her to heal.

This was the author's first novel, and I felt a very noble story.  These sorts of tales are bits of history that could easily get overlooked or lost.  In my opinion, stories are a way we connect with the world, and for someone who struggles and dislikes reading history books and biographies, finding stories--however fictional the characters--that relate history help me to learn more about it.  The characters themselves may not be real, but they were based on real people and circumstances, and these stories help us to remember.

My Rating: Four Stars

For the sensitive reader: Again, this is a difficult piece of history, but it's written with care and compassion through Manami's eyes.

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