Review of In a Flash

In a Flash
by Donna Jo Napoli
Intermediate    Lamb/Random    400 pp.    g
1/21    978-1-101-93413-5    $16.99
Library ed.  978-1-101-93414-2    $19.99
e-book ed.  978-1-101-93415-9    $9.99

Narrator Simona is eight years old in 1940, and her younger sister five, when they leave their home outside Rome for Tokyo — their father has been hired as chef at the Italian embassy. The girls must quickly learn a new language and new customs — and although they come to love Japan, as Westerners their friends are few. As WWII approaches and then intensifies, life in Tokyo deteriorates, with food and clothing scarcities; classmates’ brothers and fathers lost to war; school concerned with propaganda rather than learning. Then, in 1943, Italy surrenders — and Simona’s family is now the enemy. From here, the novel becomes a survival story. The girls are separated from their father and sent to a starvation-level internment camp; escape and are rescued by a household of anti-war activists; they return, after the women’s home is raided, to Tokyo, where they find refuge with a blind washerwoman; and finally, fatefully, end up in a Catholic mission in Hiroshima. Throughout, what saves them are Simona’s strength and determination but also the sisters’ assimilation into and respect for Japanese culture: at the camp, their politeness earns them life-saving tidbits from the kitchen; needing to buy train tickets back to Tokyo, they speak the language so well they pass for Japanese. Simona’s eight-year-old voice is the same as her adult voice (the novel ends with a final chapter set in 1965), but readers may overlook this quibble as they immerse themselves in Napoli’s story, told with immediacy, compassion, and nuance. A note describing the author’s research and an extensive bibliography are appended.

From the January/February 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.


Get access to reviews of books, ebooks, and more


We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.