One of the best debuts Iâ€™ve read in awhile, the story opens in the 1980s outside the Panama Hotel in Seattle. The hotel was once a gateway to Japantown, but has been boarded up since the Japanese were relocated to internment camps during World War II. Many families left their belongings in the basement of the hotel for safekeeping and, surprisingly, the items are still there. Henry Lee sees the current owner bring out an old Japanese parasol and is transported back to the 1940s, the war years, when he was growing up with a father obsessed with the war in China and determined that Henry grow up American.
His father pulled strings to have him attend Rainier Elementary, where he was one of only a few minority students. The kids thought all Asians were Japanese, or the enemy, and treated him with contempt. While there, he worked in the cafeteria serving meals and met Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Two outsiders, they found comfort in a friendship with one another, but it was bittersweet, because Henryâ€™s father didnâ€™t approve of him befriending anyone of Japanese descent. Eventually their relationship became one of young love, love tested when Keikoâ€™s family was evacuated to the internment camps.
So now, some 40 years later, Henry is sure that the parasol is Keikoâ€™s and that her family's things are in the hotel basement. He is now a widower, and so has time to comb through the items left there, searching for the Okabe familyâ€™s belongings.
The character development is superb and reading about this period in history through their eyes really tugged at my heart. Considering this is an era I havenâ€™t personally experienced, I felt the struggles of Henry and Keiko very strongly. Teachers covering this time period may want to consider including this novel in their plans. Because Henry and Keiko are in their preteens during the war, I think students will relate to them easily. Check catalog for availability.
Submitted by Jacki @ MPL Central