A Place to Belong

Ages: 10 - 14Publisher: Simon & Schuster Author: Cynthia KadohataIllustrator: Julia Kuo

At the beginning of Cynthia Kadonata’s new novel, A Place to Belong, 12-year-old Hanako is preparing to move with her mother, her father, and her 5-year-old brother, Akira, to live with her paternal grandparents on the Japanese island of Honshu. The year is 1946, and Hanako and her family have spent World War II in internment camps in the United States, along with more than 100,000 other Japanese-Americans. Following a miserable, seasick voyage across the Pacific Ocean, Hanoko is overwhelmed by the suffering and desolation that she encounters upon her arrival in the port city of Hiroshima, on which the U.S. military dropped an atomic bomb the previous year. Walking along the rubble-littered streets, she sees people who have been burned and disfigured by the nuclear blast. The countryside beyond the city is largely undisturbed, however, and after a brief train ride, Hanoko begins the painful process of adjusting to her new life in rural Japan. With her purple coat and braided hair, Hanoko stands out from the other Japanese children feels out of place everywhere she goes. But Hanoko quickly bonds with her wise and gentle grandparents, from whom she learns to accept hardship with patience and humility and to treat others with tolerance and kindness. A rich source of historical information about the forced internment of Japanese-Americans and the impact of the war on the lives of those who survived the nuclear blast, A Place to Belong Is also a compelling story about the beauty and meaning that can be found in even the most desperate situations and the transformative power of acceptance and compassion. With its tender, elegant black-and-white illustrations by artist Julia Kuo, Kadohata’s new novel is that rare thing, a page-turner that relies on the routine, everyday lives of its characters, rather than on action and suspense, to draw the reader deeper and deeper into the story.

David Shirley ©2019 Parents’ Choice

David Shirley’s recent nonfiction titles include A History of Brooklyn Bridge Park and Fix It Leroy! His YA biographies, Every Day I Sing the Blues: The Story of B. B. King and Satchel Paige: Baseball Legend were honored as the New York Public Library’s Best Books for Teens.

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