All that’s left of Ella Mae’s cousin Robby, killed in combat on Iwo Jima, are his bloodstained dog tags, but a California scientist claims that using the DNA it contains, he can reconstruct him.
Dr. Franks succeeds—except that the person he reconstructs is a young Japanese soldier, Takuma, not Robby. After Robby’s mother refuses to take responsibility for Takuma, Ella Mae’s mother brings him home over her husband’s objections (Ella Mae’s older brother, Daniel, also died in the war). Every family in their Orange County town lost a member in the war, and most blame Takuma for their loss. He’s either shunned or subjected to vicious racist taunts. Only plucky Ella Mae, her mother, and cousin Gracie offer friendship and compassion, even as Takuma’s reconstructed body fails. With her folksy narration, both Ella Mae and the rural town’s simple, white Protestant inhabitants lack credibility as Californians. This ill-conceived novel is more than just ludicrously simplistic in its science; it portrays 1952 California as devoid of Japanese-Americans. Neither the text nor the author’s note mentions the thousands forced from their homes across the western United States, including towns and farms in Orange County, and incarcerated in concentration camps (two in California), nor do they mention the heroic 442nd Infantry Brigade, whose highly decorated Japanese-American soldiers fought for the Allies while their own families were imprisoned.
Numerous omissions and inaccuracies work against the earnest “war hurts everyone” message. (Historical fantasy. 10-13)