Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Farewell to Manzanar

Farewell to Manzanar

Jean Wakatsuki Houston, James D. Houston
For ages 12 and up
Random House, 2007   ISBN: 978-0553272581

Jeanne is just a little girl when the world finds out that Japan has bombed Pearl Harbor. Her father, who is a fisherman, is arrested soon after the fateful day and he is taken to an undisclosed location, accused of helping the enemy. Not long after her father's arrest, Jeanne, her mother, and the rest of the family are rounded up and are shipped out to Manzanar, a detention camp in Owen's Valley in California. It is a bleak, dusty, and unwelcoming place and the living conditions are frightful. The twelve members of Jeanne's family have to share two small rooms and there is no privacy at all.

Jeanne's father rejoins the family just a little less than a year after his arrest and he is much changed. The once proud patriarch is now bent, bitter, and prone to fits of anger, especially after he has been drinking. The once active and busy man now sits in their living quarters refusing to take part in life.

Not really understanding why she is living in Manzanar, Jeanne tries to live a 'normal' life. She takes baton-twirling lessons and even, very briefly ballet, classes. She makes friends, goes on hikes and camping trips, and she dabbles in Catholicism. She tries to understand the tensions that are threatening to tear the fabric of the camp apart and clings to her memories of her former life when she lived in a real house in a real community.

In this often painful and very compelling book, Jeanne Wakatsuki describes what happened to her and her family when they were interned at Manzanar from 1942 to 1945. She explores the psychological damage that her family experienced, and she shows her readers how painful, humiliating, and upsetting the internments were for Japanese Americans. Many of them, like Jeanne, were born in America and considered themselves to be Americans, even if there were not allowed to have real citizenship. They could not understand why they were being treated so badly and they felt betrayed.

The book was reissued with the hope that the mistakes that were made during World War II would not be repeated post 9/11. The authors hope that Jeanne's story will show readers that prejudice and reactionary behavior is often just below the surface. We all have to be aware of it and wary of the damage that it can do.