Friends separated by an ocean experience the traumas of World War II.
For Japanese American Alex Maki, the world in 1935 mostly consists of reading and drawing comics. By mistake he is assigned to be the pen pal of Charlie Lévy, a Jewish girl living in Paris whom his teacher believes to be a boy. The two become devoted friends, and their correspondence proves comforting when World War II brings anti-Japanese sentiment to Alex’s home of Bainbridge Island, Washington, and Charlie’s parents argue over whether to leave Paris following the Nazi occupation. After Alex’s father is taken by the FBI, under suspicion of being a spy, the rest of the family is sent to the Manzanar internment camp. The story, punctuated by Alex’s and Charlie’s letters, overall belongs to Alex. As the war in Europe interferes with mail delivery to and from France, Alex decides to enlist in exchange for his father’s release and, secretly, in hopes of finding Charlie. Assigned to the legendary all-Japanese American 442nd regiment, Alex confronts the ravages of war, haunted by his fears for Charlie’s safety. Fukuda (The Trap, 2013, etc.) artfully conveys Alex’s inner turmoil and paints visceral combat scenes. Alex grows over time, battling internalized racism, which is partially expressed in his negative reaction to the recruits from Hawaii whose portrayal could have been developed with more nuance and context.
An intriguing premise and fascinating tale. (author’s note, bibliography) (Historical fiction. 13-18)