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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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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It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

THE CONSPIRACY

From the Plot to Kill Hitler series , Vol. 1

Near the end of World War II, two kids join their parents in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

Max, 12, lives with his parents and his older sister in a Berlin that’s under constant air bombardment. During one such raid, a mortally wounded man stumbles into the white German family’s home and gasps out his last wish: “The Führer must die.” With this nighttime visitation, Max and Gerta discover their parents have been part of a resistance cell, and the siblings want in. They meet a colorful band of upper-class types who seem almost too whimsical to be serious. Despite her charming levity, Prussian aristocrat and cell leader Frau Becker is grimly aware of the stakes. She enlists Max and Gerta as couriers who sneak forged identification papers to Jews in hiding. Max and Gerta are merely (and realistically) cogs in the adults’ plans, but there’s plenty of room for their own heroism. They escape capture, rescue each other when they’re caught out during an air raid, and willingly put themselves repeatedly at risk to catch a spy. The fictional plotters—based on a mix of several real anti-Hitler resistance cells—are portrayed with a genuine humor, giving them the space to feel alive even in such a slim volume.

It’s great to see these kids “so enthusiastic about committing high treason.” (historical note) (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-35902-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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