Happy MMGM, guys!
Today, we're reviewing Paper Wishes, a short, wistful tale about a young Japanese girl's experiences with living in an internment camp during World War II.
MMGM is a feature hosted by the fabulous Shannon Messenger on her blog every week!
Expected publication: January 5th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR) (first published January 1st 2016)
Format read: ARC via publisher
Though the book is as equally heart-wrenching as it is beautiful, debut author Lois Sepahban's tale is ultimately an uplifting tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Manami's journey is a humanizing one, which will likely move readers of any age.
Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family's life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It's 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn't until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family.
Manami is a ten-year-old living on Bainbridge Island in 1942, when life changes forever. Thanks to an order signed by the President, Manami, her parents and her grandfather, along with all of their Japanese-American friends, are required to locate to a camp.
Though Manami tries to bring Yujiin, the family dog along, she's quickly caught and forced to give him up. With the loss of Yujiin and realization that life at their new camp won't be easy, Manami loses her voice. It's a long journey to bring her voice back, as she works to adjust to her new circumstances...
While Sepahban deliberately chooses to use very simple language to tell Manami's story, the impact is a profound one. Through Manami's thought process and interactions with those around her, we see just how jarring this loss of innocence is for someone so young. There's literally no explanation for why any of this is happening, and why Manami can't even be allowed to bring the family dog to her new "prison-village". It's a startling reminder of the injustices of the world, and how they can alter even the youngest and most innocent amongst us.
But as bleak as Manami's initial circumstances may be, Sepahban is also careful to emphasize the idea that small acts of goodness do exist, and can often help reinvigorate an individual's faith in humanity. Miss Rosalie's decision to gift Manami with paper and pencils is a reminder that there are those who won't necessarily cede to popular opinion, and will go against the grain to do what they believe to be right.
Moreover, Manami's drawings are a reminder on the importance of finding healthy, emotional outlets to work through a person's feelings. Sepahban carefully shows readers how Manami is able to use her drawings to process her desire to be reunited with Yujiin, and also as a connection tool in lieu of her voice. It's art that helps Manami reconnect with her parents and her grandfather, and helps them work through their own individual challenges with their new lives.
Outside of Manami's personal journey, Sepahban also gently reinforces the role of tradition and community in retaining normalcy throughout the course of the novel. Manami's family's commitment to things like the tea ceremony to celebrate positive change, and their continued loyalty to friends from the island - e.g. there are repeated instances of friends coming and working together - absolutely stresses the idea that it's the retention of the positive aspects of one's life, which helps make each of them stronger in the end.
Consequently, though the book concludes with Manami and her family headed off to an uncertain future, readers are left with the certainty that it's a future that they will face with the strength and support of friends and family. Though Manami and individuals like herself should never have faced with such an injustice as this, Sepahban's story is ultimately a reminder of what it means to triumph, and also a poignant reminder for now and the future.
Manami's journey is not an easy one; it's full of obstacles, emotions and situations that are a challenge to those who are far older than her. However, through Sepahban's careful guidance, Manami and her family's journey ultimately becomes testaments to the strength of the human spirit, and a reminder to the future.
I highly recommend Paper Wishes for MG fans, both young and old. I also strongly recommend this book for educators and parents who are looking for historical fiction that can help begin to educate readers on the not-so-often told stories of WWII.