WHEN MY NAME WAS KEOKO

The author of three novels set in different periods of Korean history (A Single Shard, 2001, etc.) now turns to WWII for the story of a brother and sister and their lives with their parents and uncle. Telling their story in alternating voices, the two siblings offer complementary and sometimes different versions of events. Sun-hee, in the last year of elementary school in 1940, loves studying and is an obedient daughter while older brother Tae-yul loves speed and machines. Their uncle is a source of concern because he publishes an underground, anti-Japanese newspaper. The Japanese had conquered Korea in 1910 and as the war looms their demands on the Koreans intensify. Food grows scarcer and the Koreans, long forbidden to study their own culture and language, now must take Japanese names. Thus Sun-hee becomes Keoko. In one memorable passage, Sun-hee misunderstands an oblique warning from her Japanese friend and assumes that her uncle’s life is in danger. He flees, never to be seen again as the war and the post-war communist government in the north keep them apart. This beautifully written story captures these events through the eyes of a very likable young girl. In her voice, readers share the joys of playing cat’s cradle, eating popcorn, and tasting American chewing gum for the first time. Through Tae-yul’s they experience his gritty determination to join a kamikaze unit in order to protect his family from the suspicious Japanese. There is food for thought when Sun-hee’s father tells her that “they burn the paper—not the words” when referring to the Japanese soldiers who destroy her diary. There have been relatively few stories for young readers that are set in Asia during WWII. This powerful and riveting tale of one close-knit, proud Korean family movingly addresses life-and-death issues of courage and collaboration, injustice, and death-defying determination in the face of totalitarian oppression. (afterword, bibliography) (Fiction. 10-15)

Pub Date: March 18, 2002

ISBN: 0-618-13335-6

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Clarion Books

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2002

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Luminescent, just like the artwork it celebrates. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

THE SEVENTH MOST IMPORTANT THING

Traumatized by his father’s recent death, a boy throws a brick at an old man who collects junk in his neighborhood and winds up on probation working for him.

Pearsall bases the book on a famed real work of folk art, the Throne of the Third Heaven, by James Hampton, a janitor who built his work in a garage in Washington, D.C., from bits of light bulbs, foil, mirrors, wood, bottles, coffee cans, and cardboard—the titular seven most important things. In late 1963, 13-year-old Arthur finds himself looking for junk for Mr. Hampton, who needs help with his artistic masterpiece, begun during World War II. The book focuses on redemption rather than art, as Hampton forgives the fictional Arthur for his crime, getting the boy to participate in his work at first reluctantly, later with love. Arthur struggles with his anger over his father’s death and his mother’s new boyfriend. Readers watch as Arthur transfers much of his love for his father to Mr. Hampton and accepts responsibility for saving the art when it becomes endangered. Written in a homespun style that reflects the simple components of the artwork, the story guides readers along with Arthur to an understanding of the most important things in life.

Luminescent, just like the artwork it celebrates. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-553-49728-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American...

DUST OF EDEN

Crystal-clear prose poems paint a heart-rending picture of 13-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa’s journey from Seattle to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II.

This vividly wrought story of displacement, told from Mina’s first-person perspective, begins as it did for so many Japanese-Americans: with the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor. The backlash of her Seattle community is instantaneous (“Jap, Jap, Jap, the word bounces / around the walls of the hall”), and Mina chronicles its effects on her family with a heavy heart. “I am an American, I scream / in my head, but my mouth is stuffed / with rocks; my body is a stone, like the statue / of a little Buddha Grandpa prays to.” When Roosevelt decrees that West Coast Japanese-Americans are to be imprisoned in inland camps, the Tagawas board up their house, leaving the cat, Grandpa’s roses and Mina’s best friend behind. Following the Tagawas from Washington’s Puyallup Assembly Center to Idaho’s Minidoka Relocation Center (near the titular town of Eden), the narrative continues in poems and letters. In them, injustices such as endless camp lines sit alongside even larger ones, such as the government’s asking interned young men, including Mina’s brother, to fight for America.

An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl’s experience of the Japanese-American internment. (historical note) (Verse/historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: March 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8075-1739-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Whitman

Review Posted Online: Jan. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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