Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Genre: Middle grade fiction, historical fiction
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Audiobook from the public library
Audiobook reader: Kimberly Farr
First line: This is what it felt like to be lonely.
Sumiko, a young Japanese-American girl, lives with her younger brother on her Auntie and Uncle’s farm in California, where they grow carnations and weedflower. While sad about the loss of her parents in a car accident, Sumiko and Tak-Tak are happy with Auntie and Uncle and their two grown sons. Then Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and Sumiko’s family’s lives – along with the lives of thousands of other Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens – undergo tremendous upheaval. Her uncle and grandfather are taken to a prison camp because her grandfather used to be the principal of a Japanese school. The rest of the family are sent to the Poston Internment Camp in Arizona. Sumiko’s love of gardening and her friendship with a Mohave boy help her to find hope even in the midst of prejudice, injustice, and war.
This is the second of Cynthia Kadohata’s books that I’ve read (Kira-Kira was the first), and I am convinced she is one of the best living writers of children’s historical fiction. I have always found the subject of the World War II Japanese internment camps heart-breaking and fascinating, and yet it’s a part of history that I don’t find that we often talk about. It is a shameful episode in American history, and yet a time that needs to be explored and understood.
Ms. Kadohata gives her readers a wonderful character in young Sumiko, and we experience internment through her eyes. The adults around her at the camp have such a varied range of reactions to the injustice: some are determined to be the best Americans possible, enlisting in the military, growing food for the war effort; others are outraged and want nothing to do with the American government who has locked them away, causing them to lose their homes, their businesses, their livelihoods.
Because the Poston camp was built on a Mohave Indian reservation, we see yet another aspect of prejudice – not only white prejudice against Native Americans, but the Japanese and Native American mistrust of each other. When Sumiko becomes friends with Frank, she has her own ideas about people and poverty challenged and changed. Weedflower is a well-written, ultimately hopeful book, and one that older children, teens, and adults alike will enjoy.
Audio notes: Kimberly Farr is an accomplished reader whose work I have previously enjoyed on audiobooks like Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman. She isn’t a flashy reader, but gives the characters’ voices just enough differences to allow the listener to get lost in the story.