Wednesday, August 28, 2019

World at War: A Place to Belong

A Place to Belong. Cynthia Kadohata. Illustrated by Julia Kuo. 2019. 416 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This was the secret thing Hanako felt about old people: she really didn’t understand them.

Premise/plot: Hanako and her brother Akira are traveling to Japan with their parents. It will be the first time they meet their grandparents. There will be many, many firsts both on the journey by ship, the train ride to Hiroshima, and life in a small country village. The year is 1946; Hanako’s family is one of hundreds that have renounced their American citizenship. (The parents have—not the children, at least in this case.) Hanako thought any life outside the camps (internment camps) would be an improvement. One thing the family has in abundance love and affection. There is a sweet, tender, compassionate side to all the relationships. The two children love, love, love their grandfather and grandmother. It is mutual. These two grandparents have been unconditionally loving them since they were born. But there are many, many hardships—namely lack of food. There isn’t enough food to feed six people. Even if everyone works every day all day. Hunger is ever present and it gnaws at the family’s hope. It is important for them all that the children hold onto hope. Is there a future for them all in Japan? Is Japan the place the family belongs? Or is America still home despite the way they were treated?

My thoughts: What a tender and compelling read! Hanako touched me and I believe she’ll touch you too. What I loved most about her was her heart. She is kind, generous, thoughtful, sensitive to others. She is the model of empathy. And not in a goody two shoes way. She sees how the war—particularly the dropping of the atomic bomb has devastated a community and impacted so many. She sees the pain and seeks to do something—anything, even if it’s just a small gesture.

I also loved the family as a whole. Unconditional love, sacrificial love, selfless love. There was just something lovely and tender yet bittersweet as well. I just wanted to hug all the characters.

The book is character-driven. It told a story that I was unfamiliar with and found fascinating. I had no idea that some families chose to leave America and “return” to Japan after the war. I had no idea that many later hired a lawyer to fight on their behalf to have their citizenships reinstated. Did the families truly choose or were they pressured to renounce? The book also gives readers a behind the scenes glimpse at life in Japan in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Highly recommended.
© 2019 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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