Young Henry is the only non-white boy (he has Chinese parents) at an all-white school in Seattle. He hates it as he is bullied around by all the other boys, especially Chaz Preston. But soon he isn’t alone anymore. Keiko, an American girl with Japanese roots, joins the school and keeps him company. Together they can endure the teasing by Chaz and his gang and become close friends.
However it is the year 1941 and Japan assaulted Pearl Harbor. Everybody Japanese is now the enemy or at least a spy, even if the person is American and has Japanese roots only. For twelve year old Keiko and her family this means they have to leave their home and move to an internment camp.
In 1986 Henry hears that there has been a big discovery in the old Panama Hotel in Nihonmachi, the old Japan town of Seattle. The new owner found the belongings of 37 Japanese families, which they stored in the Hotel’s basement before they left for the internment camps. Henry is sure he will find something of the belongings of Keiko’s family there. And now he is going to tell Keiko’s story and how he lost her sight.
The American internment camps during World War 2 are something I never read about before. I think the author wrote about it in some way which was not accusatory and totally leaves it to the reader to deal with what was wrong about it or not. I think it to be cruel to displace people from their homes and force them to leave their belongings behind. I am glad that although people were prisoners they weren’t treated as bad as in concentration camps. Conditions of housing and provision with food were poor and soon the interned families' resignation to their helplessness throughout these conditions was phrased with "shikata ga nai". Loosely translated that means “it cannot be helped”.
I found the book in the young adult section of my library, labeled with friendship and love. All this could be true for this book, but in my opinion it is so much more. For instance this book delivers a small insight in northwestern jazz music history or the manners between Chinese parents and their children.