Review of A Place to Belong

A Place to Belong
by Cynthia Kadohata; illus. by Julia Kuo
Intermediate, Middle School    Dlouhy/Atheneum    405 pp.
5/19    978-1-4814-4664-8    $17.99   
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-4666-2    $10.99

They had been such proud Americans—working hard at their San Francisco restaurant and hopeful for the future. Then came Pearl Harbor, and Hanako, her little brother, and their parents (along with thousands of other Japanese Americans) were forced into internment camps, losing everything. At the war’s conclusion, disillusioned with their adopted country and pressured by the government, Hanako’s parents renounce their American citizenships and return to Japan. On her way to her paternal, tenant-farmer grandparents’ home outside of Hiroshima, Hanako is overwhelmed by and horrified at the devastation. Kadohata (Newbery winner for Kira-Kira, rev. 3/04) does a magnificent job communicating this for young readers through two survivors of the atomic bomb—a maimed boy and his sister who move in and out of the story and repeatedly challenge Hanako, logistically and ethically. On the hardscrabble farm, Hanako struggles to settle in, but daily hardships such as food scarcity are mitigated by the prodigious unconditional love of her grandparents. The introspective girl observes and reflects throughout this engrossing novel—grappling with how to respond to other sufferers, adjusting to a completely different way of living, and wondering what the future holds for her. Using a close third-person voice, Kadohata brings readers tightly inside Hanako’s psyche as she struggles to make the right choices and comprehend the incomprehensible. With occasional black-and-white illustrations by Kuo, this is a book to sink deeply into—one that may cause readers to consider, to empathize, and to recognize the strength and power of people in the most challenging of circumstances.

From the September/October 2019 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Monica Edinger
Monica Edinger, a fourth-grade teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, blogs at Educating Alice and the Huffington Post. She is the author of Africa Is My Home: A Child of the Amistad (Candlewick), illustrated by Robert Byrd.

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