Thursday, June 20, 2019

Review: A Place to Belong by Cynthia Kadohata

by Cynthia Kadohata
May 14, 2019
Middle Grade Historical
416 pages
ages 10 to 14

A Japanese-American family, reeling from their ill treatment in the Japanese internment camps, gives up their American citizenship to move back to Hiroshima, unaware of the devastation wreaked by the atomic bomb in this piercing look at the aftermath of World War II by Newbery Medalist Cynthia Kadohata.

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.


Hope and love shine as a constant beacon in a tale which leaves the reader sighing and praying that a a girl and her homeland find a way to survive.

Although Hanako and her brother were born in America and are Americans, her parents immigrated from Japan. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor and spending four years in a camp, they're shipping 'back' to Japan. Hanako's life is already a sea without roots as four years before, everything was taken from them—her father's restaurant, their home, their lives. Living in Japan is something she's not sure whether to fear or be hopeful about. While the grandparents she never knew before are as amazing as can be, they reside not too far from Hiroshima. The pain and destruction from the bomb hits in a way Hanako never could have dreamed. Somehow, she hopes to find a new beauty, one described by her grandfather, in the chaos and pain.

The author has taken a very complex and troubled moment in history and presented it in a bitter-sweet and beautiful light with just the right amount of hope for the intended age group. Hanako is a lovely girl. Despite the unfair and terrible treatment her family faces, there isn't a sign of hatred or contempt in her heart. Her entire family maintains a peaceful and hopeful attitude, which outshines the darkness around them. Her reactions and thoughts are understandable and her desire to help is an inspiration. The grandparents add to this with their humor and extremely positive attitude. And it's this brightness which allows the horrible world around them to be presented in just the right way.

This isn't a fast paced read, but rather allows the needed time for everything to sink in. And there is quite a bit for the author to bring across. The four years in the camp are only dabbled in as memories and mentions, while the first chapters allow the reader to settle into the entire situation as well as the characters. This isn't an action book, but glides on emotions and experiences. It digs into the heart and brings the problems to life. Not only young teens will enjoy this one, but older readers are sure to get lost in the pages as well.

And here she is...

Cynthia Kadohata is the author of the Newbery Medal-winning book Kira-Kira, the National Book Award winner The Thing About Luck, the Jan Addams Peace Award and Pen USA Award winner Weedflower, Cracker!, Outside Beauty, A Million Shades of Gray, Half a World Away, and several critically acclaimed adult novels, including The Floating World. She lives with her hockey-playing son and dog in West Covina, California.

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