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A PLACE TO BELONG by Cynthia Kadohata Kirkus Star


by Cynthia Kadohata ; illustrated by Julia Kuo

Pub Date: May 14th, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-4814-4664-8
Publisher: Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum

A family battered by war crosses an ocean to settle in a land still mired in suffering.

Twelve-year-old Hanako, her 5-year-old brother, and her parents were interned along with over 110,000 other Japanese-Americans during World War II. Papa, who agitated for the internees’ civil rights, was separated and targeted for especially harsh treatment. Having lost their restaurant and now disillusioned by America, they become expatriates, traveling to Hiroshima Prefecture to live as struggling tenant farmers with Hanako’s paternal grandparents. There they confront harsh social inequities, the impact of the atomic bomb, and the privations of postwar life. Even as she is embraced with warm, unconditional love by Jiichan and Baachan, Hanako struggles to adjust. She is clearly a foreigner in the land of her forebears, an identity crisis that’s exacerbated by extreme hunger, encounters with survivors of the bombing, and her loving parents’ emotional stress. The third-person limited narration vividly captures Hanako’s literal and figurative journeys as she faces complex moral dilemmas, deals with cultural dislocation and terrible uncertainty, and tries to lift the spirits of those around her. Superb characterization and an evocative sense of place elevate this story that is at once specific to the experiences of Japanese-American expatriates and yet echoes those of many others. Final art not seen.

Full of desperate sadness and tremendous beauty.

(afterword) (Historical fiction. 10-14)