Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Last Cherry Blossom

The Last Cherry Blossom

Kathleen Burkinshaw
Historical Fiction
For ages 9 to 12
Sky Pony Press, 2016   ISBN: 978-1634506939

Outside the confines of Yuriko’s home the war rages on. Young men leave their families in Hiroshima perhaps never to return, people worry about their ration books, western hairstyles and jazz music is frowned upon, there are air raids every day, and people read the news to try to understand what is happening. Inside her home, all is well. Yuriko feels safe with her father, Papa, who is the best of companions and who loves her dearly. The biggest blot on Yuriko’s life is the presence of her aunt and her five-year-old cousin in the family home. Aunt Kimiko is a grim and chilly person, and her little son Genji is a pest.

Yuriko cannot imagine her life changing, but change it does. It all really begins when Papa buries the family gates so that they cannot be taken away to be turned into planes or bullets. He tells his daughter that he is worried about the war, and for the first time she realizes that it is possible that Japan might lose. After seven long years of conflict, the country is drained of army supplies. Hearing Papa talking about losing, and about giving his life to save hers, frightens Yuriko. Papa reminds her that “In our lives we must experience both beginnings as well as endings. It is like the season changing after the last cherry blossom falls.”

Then Papa decides that it is now time for him to have a new wife. Some time has passed since the death of Yuriko’s mother and he would like to have a companion again. The lady, Sumiyo, is actually very kind and after she helps Yuriko with a school sewing project Yuriko cannot deny that she is a nice lady. During an outing together Papa tells Yuriko that the plan is that that he will marry Sumiyo, and Aunt Kimiko will marry her beau on the same day in November. Yuriko worries that she will not be able to have outings with her father anymore once he marries, but it turns out that Sumiyo is a wise woman. She understands that Yuriko’s outings with her father are special to both of them, and she would not dream of interfering. Perhaps this wedding will not be such a bad thing after all.

One day, after the weddings, someone says something in the street that Yuriko does not understand. She asks her aunt about it and what her aunt tells her shocks Yuriko to the core. Everything she thought she knew about her family has been a lie, and now she has to figure how she feels about her new reality. For a while Yuriko does not know what to think because she is so shocked. She never imagines that in just a few months she will be challenged even more, and she will have to dig very deep to find the courage to survive.

This remarkable book takes readers into the life of a young girl living in Hiroshima, Japan, in the last year of World War II. The world around her is changing, and no matter how hard she tries to hold on to her old life, change is happening to her as well.

It is interesting for western readers to see what life in Japan was like at that time. They will discover that Yuriko’s family, like our families, had its problems, its secrets, and its strengths. Just like us, she struggles when change is forced on her, and just like us, she learns how to rise above it all in spite of her pain and her