A Place to Belong

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Modern Age

A Place to Belong
Author: Kadohata, Cynthia
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Time Period: Modern Age
Time Frame: 1946
Geographic Area: Asia
Country: Japan
Topics: WWII, Hiroshima, Japanese Internment
Genre: Fiction
Reading Age: Upper Middle Grade, Young Adult
Format: Novel
Published: 2019

World History > Modern Age > WWII

World War II has ended, but while America has won the war, twelve-year-old Hanako feels lost. To her, the world, and her world, seems irrevocably broken.

America, the only home she's ever known, imprisoned then rejected her and her family--and thousands of other innocent Americans--because of their Japanese heritage, because Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Japan, the country they've been forced to move to, the country they hope will be the family's saving grace, where they were supposed to start new and better lives, is in shambles because America dropped bombs of their own--one on Hiroshima unlike any other in history. And Hanako's grandparents live in a small village just outside the ravaged city.

The country is starving, the black markets run rampant, and countless orphans beg for food on the streets, but how can Hanako help them when there is not even enough food for her own brother?

Hanako feels she could crack under the pressure, but just because something is broken doesn't mean it can't be fixed. Cracks can make room for gold, her grandfather explains when he tells her about the tradition of kintsukuroi--fixing broken objects with gold lacquer, making them stronger and more beautiful than ever. As she struggles to adjust to find her place in a new world, Hanako will find that the gold can come in many forms, and family may be hers.

Emily's Review

This was a beautiful story about a Japanese American family renouncing their citizenship and returning to Japan. I love stories like this, because it's fascinating to follow a character who is experiencing a new place and the unfamiliarity yet comfort that comes from returning to your place of origin. Hanako and her brother were born in America, and in moving to Japan they get to meet their grandparents for the first time.

This book covers a lot of ground - you will learn about Japanese internment in the US during the war, the bombing of Hiroshima, and life in Japan in the aftermath of the war. Hanako's grandparents live a hard life, and even after experiencing the internment camps, they aren't used to this kind of poverty. Hanako wants to help everyone, but her generosity leads to trouble sometimes.

Hanako is a great protagonist - she's observant and questioning and always trying to find a way to make those around her happy. She had to grow up quickly during the war, and she experiences a lot of growth throughout this story. It isn't a happy story, but it is one about a family that loves each other enough to make difficult sacrifices.

If you study World War II, particularly Japanese internment and the atomic bombs, I highly recommend this book. It's perfect for ages 10+.

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