Paper Wishes

If wishes on papers thrown to the wind were real, I'd wish that stories be told by those whose heritage they are, and that publishers promote and lift up the voices of the marginalized.


While Sepahban handled the difficult material rather well, I really wish it had been written by an author of Japanese-American descent.  Maybe the publishing house hit their diversity quota for the year.  I don't know.

Many reviewers on Goodreads and other outlets are rating this highly because it was "moving."  Yes. It is.  Most of those reviews are also written by white women (of which I am one).  And many reviews acknowledge that the reader did not have much prior knowledge of this crime against human rights, because the textbooks used in school like to downplay this part of history.  Don't tell me that "internment camp" sounds any better than "concentration camp" when you strip aside which country used which term.  But let's look at the story, shall we?

Manami lives with her parents and grandfather on Bainbridge Island in the Pacific Northwest.  They eat lots of fish, and her grandfather teaches her many things in the tradition of the trope of the Old Wise Master (ARGH).  He also has a little dog, named Yujiin, that Manami loves.

One day, Manami is tearfully informed by her teacher that she cannot come back to school, and that Manami's parents will explain everything.  They don't, at least not right away.  But then the government shows up, testing them for diseases and telling her parents that they'll be taken away from everything that is theirs, simply because they are of Japanese heritage.  Each person can only bring one suitcase.

Manami can't bear to leave Yujiin, the dog, behind, even though it's been arranged that the local minister will care for him.  Look, I'm no stone-hearted troll.  We have two furpuppies and I would be so lost without them.  But if someone I knew and trusted was going to take care of them, I'd rather do that than risk anything happening to them on a trip to be incarcerated.

Now, obviously Manami doesn't know or completely understand what's going on.  So she tries to smuggle Yujiin aboard the boat that will take them to their new home.  A soldier catches her and puts Yujin in a crate.

Then there's a chronological skip, and Manami is in the camp.  At first, I thought the soldier just happened to have a crate so that if anyone had pets, they'd be shipped along.  Because this was an internment camp, this didn't make any sense.  Indeed, Yujiin never came along with Manami.  She is convinced that Yujiin will be able to find her, but until he does, she refuses to speak.

As it turns out, Manami has two older siblings, both of whom are away at college.  Her brother Rob returns to be with his family, even though being a student meant he was exempt from incarceration.  He ends up teaching at the camp school.  Meanwhile, Manami builds a relationship with her oh-so-nice-and-pretty-and-young teacher, Miss Rosalie.  I almost never use the term "teacher's pet," but that's exactly what this relationship is.  Manami loves to draw, so the teacher gives her pencils and paper so that she can express herself without words.  While this is, indeed, very kind, I have trouble imagining that the government would send such sympathetic and idealistic persons to teach in a camp of persons that they have arbitrarily imprisoned and suspect of treason.  However, Miss Rosalie's special treatment of Manami veers dangerously close to white savior territory.  Plus there is a Forbidden Romance.

I honestly couldn't tell you what changed in Manami at the end.  She got a new dog, yes.  There was violence in the camp.  Miss Rosalie told her she was brave.  But in the end, the family was just moving from Manzanar in California to Camp Minidoka in Idaho.  They are still imprisoned.

My overall reaction to this book was the mental equivalent of a shrug.  Kiddos who like dogs or who like historical fiction will probably like this, but it felt a bit too whitewashed for my (admittedly grown-up-ish) tastes.  There are so many stories to be told by Japanese Americans about this horrific event (see George Takei's musical Allegiance), but I feel like, once again, publishing isn't giving them the platform they need and deserve.

Last thought: Manami wasted a lot of paper throwing it around, hoping that the wind would carry her wishes.  They probably all got stuck in a tree a mile away from camp.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.




Comments

  1. I knew about George Takei's internment, through his autobiography, not about the musical, must check it out.

    As a child of Holocaust survivors, however dreadful an abuse of human rights it was, I can point out that at least these camps weren't actively trying to murder their inmates! The worst thing was when they came out and found all their homes and property taken away. There was a compensation given. But it wasn't till years later, too little too late.

    I see your point about the right people writing about ethnic stories, but it isn't always possible - and Deborah Ellis, for one, makes a living out of appropriating other people's stories, and as a teacher in a very multicultural school, I can tell you that our students just love her books. Personally, I prefer other authors, but I'm an adult. The trouble is, there's much demand for diversity. Not enough people of the right nationality to provide it.

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  2. I linked the two camps because here in America, people generally don't even know that this happened and if they do, they don't particularly consider it to be a violation of human rights. They dismiss it as "protecting the country from threats." -_-

    I actually wish people in my community would read more of Ellis' books--she makes them short but appealing for kids. I also prefer other authors, but there are people out there who treat the material with respect. I think that Lois Sepahban did so as well, but didn't execute the actual concept of a plot very well.

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  3. I think my main annoyance with Ellis, when I read her first books, was that she helped herself to true stories and didn't even bother to acknowledge those who told them to her. Then I heard her speak at a library conference and became even more annoyed with her! There was a smugness, an "I know it and you don't," and she made one blatant error in her speech which showed that she had failed to do her research about a certain issue. I buy her books for the library anyway, because the kids do love them.

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    1. Ooof. That's not good. I may have read one when I was a kid, but when you're young, you don't think so much about who is telling the story. I also had a passion for the book Shabanu--do you know it?--but as a grown-up librarian I felt ... odd about a Pakistani girl's story being told by someone who hadn't experienced it. It was probably meant to be exotic.

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