Happy MMGM, everyone!
Today, I'm reviewing the lovely Dash by Kirby Larson.
It's the sweet and heartbreaking tale of a young Japanese-American girl who is sent to an internment camp after Pearl Harbor. She's separated from her beloved dog Dash, and we see how she adjusts to her new circumstances and being away from her very best friend.
MMGM is a feature hosted by (fabulous) author Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: August 26th 2014 by Scholastic Press
Format read: ARC via publisher
Synopsis via Goodreads:
Although Mitsi Kashino and her family are swept up in the wave of anti-Japanese sentiment following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mitsi never expects to lose her home -- or her beloved dog, Dash. But, as World War II rages and people of Japanese descent are forced into incarceration camps, Mitsi is separated from Dash, her classmates, and life as she knows it. The camp is a crowded and unfamiliar place, whose dusty floors, seemingly endless lines, and barbed wire fences begin to unravel the strong Kashino family ties. With the help of a friendly neighbor back home, Mitsi remains connected to Dash in spite of the hard times, holding on to the hope that the war will end soon and life will return to normal. Though they've lost their home, will the Kashino family also lose their sense of family? And will Mitsi and Dash ever be reunited?
Mitsi is an eleven-year-old girl living in Seattle in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Even though she feels like life should go on as normal, most of her community doesn't agree. Friends stop talking to Mitsi; she's harassed by random teenagers on the street, and her family quickly begins experiencing the ramifications of a country that is being swept by a wave of anti-Japanese resentment.
In the midst of all of this chaos, Mitsi finds comfort in Dash, her loyal dog and best friend. However, Mitsi soon learns that she must be parted from Dash as well, when she and her family are ordered to report to an internment camp.
There have been many books written about the internment/relocation camps that Japanese-Americans experienced during WWII, but Larson brings a fresh perspective to the genre by offering a look from young girl's perspective, who is confused over why her culture is now suddenly being treated differently.
Larson does an exceptionally fine job of showing the rapid shift in public opinion after December 7th 1941, while also making it a point to include how many Japanese-American families - Mitsi's own parents included - struggle with trying to show that they remain loyal to a country that no longer trusts them.
Readers will undoubtedly be moved (and equally frustrated) by how Mitsi and her family gradually have everything they love and care about - e.g. friends, school, jobs, Dash and even their home - stripped away from them, before they're sent away to an internment camp.
But even as it seems like Mitsi continues to suffer indignity after indignity, Larson also doesn't let her young heroine wallow in the depths of despair. Mitsi is able to find the silver lining to every cloud, including making friends with a kind neighbor who agrees to take Dash in, or thinking of ingenious ways to keep herself occupied - especially when it comes to sharing good news about Dash - while inside the camp.
There's an underlying reminder of the positivity and strength of the human spirit in Mitsi's actions - especially near the end- which will undoubtedly move readers.
Of special note: Larson handles the racism that Mitsi experiences in a manner that is both straightforward and thought-provoking. She doesn't hesitate from showing just how ugly some of the racist experiences could be - at one point, Mitsi is chased and heckled by a group of young men, who physically attack her belongings.
But at the same time, Larson is also careful to balance the ugliness of those experiences with examples of the kinder and softer side of humanity. Mitsi's new neighbor Mrs. Bowker, openly shares her regrets and misgivings on how her German neighbors were treated during World War I. She explicitly states that she wishes she had the courage to have spoken up or acted at the time and it's touching to see how Mrs. Bowker takes that lesson to heart, when it comes to Mitsi's well-being.
This is a strong reminder of the courage and hope that individuals can bring to others with simple actions, and it's also a reminder that it's never too late to learn from one's own misgivings and act differently in the future. This made a strong impact on me, and I can only imagine the impact that this will have on other readers as well.
Mitsi's courage in leaving home and separating herself from Dash, especially as she continues to face down some of the most difficult aspects of humanity, is something that I think any reader will admire. Readers will also likely be heartened by the kindness shown to Mitsi by her community members, who are unwilling to let public opinion dictate how and whom they choose to love.
I recommend this for fans of Duke - naturally!- but also for readers who are supporters of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. Dash is exactly the type of diverse book that is needed, and I can only hope that Kirby Larson will write more of them.
About the author:
Kirby Larson is the acclaimed author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book HATTIE BIG SKY; its sequel, HATTIE EVER AFTER; THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL; DEAR AMERICA: THE FENCES BETWEEN US; and DUKE. She has also written a number of picture books, including the award-winning TWO BOBBIES: A TRUE STORY OF HURRICANE KATRINA, FRIENDSHIP, AND SURVIVAL and NUBS: THE TRUE STORY OF A MUTT, A MARINE & A MIRACLE. She lives in Washington with her husband.