Gwen and her Girl Guides group fight for survival during the Japanese occupation of China during World War II.
The daughter of American Christian missionaries, Gwen has lived in boarding schools in northern China. For the last two years, the Weihsien mission school has been used as an internment camp by the Japanese, who closely guard the students and staff. Gwen’s teacher, Miss E., has taken it upon herself to buoy her students’ morale. Gwen complies with Miss E.’s efforts, repeating her Girl Guide rules to mitigate the effects of the harsh living conditions. Tensions arise with the death of one student and the escape of two others, and all the while Gwen questions her complex feelings toward her parents. Gwen’s first-person narrative unfolds in the present tense with limited description and ends with the arrival of American troops, leaving the conditions of the school and Gwen’s ultimate fate to readers’ imaginations. Gwen, Miss E., and the other primary characters present as white with diversity limited to the Japanese guards, a kindly Japanese officer, and Chinese laborer Lu (referred to as a “coolie,” acknowledged as a slur in the author’s note but in line with the era). The italicized Japanese dialogue tends toward one- or two-word commands.
Although based on true accounts, this story does not quite match the gravitas of this fascinating piece of history. (resources) (Historical fiction. 11-14)