A German-American girl becomes best friends with a Japanese-American girl in an internment camp during World War II.
Elise Sontag feels like a normal American teenager in 1943 even though her parents grew up in Germany. But then her father is arrested because the authorities think he might be a Nazi sympathizer, leaving Elise, her mother, and her brother all alone. Eventually, their family is able to be together again—in a family internment camp in Texas. Although there are others of German descent and also some Italians, the majority of the camp’s residents are of Japanese descent. People of different nationalities don’t often mix, but Elise becomes friends with Mariko, a Japanese-American teenager who lived in LA before coming to the camp with her parents and siblings. Elise and Mariko make big plans to move to Manhattan together when the war ends, but before that can happen, Elise’s family is sent back to Germany. As the war rages on, Elise never stops hoping that she and Mariko will eventually reunite even as the world crumbles around her. Meissner (As Bright as Heaven, 2018, etc.) has created a quietly devastating story that shows how fear and hatred during World War II changed (and even ended) the lives of many innocent Americans. Although Mariko is a central character, Elise’s personal growth is what drives the story—she must learn how to take control of her life even as she’s at the mercy of a government that sees her family as enemies. Readers may wish they could see more of Mariko’s experiences and hardships, but Elise’s story is still compelling and important.
An emotional and informative look at a shameful chapter of U.S. history that’s often swept under the rug.