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Dear America: The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis - Seattle, Washington, 1941

Review

Dear America: The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis - Seattle, Washington, 1941

Twelve-year-old Piper Davis receives a diary as a gift just as the world is about to explode into chaos, and she writes it all down. She begins writing on November 8, 1941 about her much-adored big brother, Hank, who has enlisted in the Navy. Hank is positive that the United States won’t get involved in the storms brewing in Europe and that he will be in a peacetime navy. She still can’t help but worry about him, yet, at the same time, she’s so proud of him. Piper lives in Seattle, Washington, with her big sister, who attends college, and her pastor father, who has a church attended mostly by Japanese-Americans. Hank calls after he finishes boot camp to tell the family he has been assigned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Piper writes to him all the time and uses her passion for photography to send lots of photos to remind him of home.

Then the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor, and the entire country is shocked. But for Piper, the wait to hear from her brother is absolute torture. Word from Hank finally arrives, and he’s okay, but one of his friends is killed and another seriously wounded. Plus, the country has now entered the war, and Hank will be stationed on a ship heading out to battle. At home, life is changing for Piper and everyone else. Rationing puts a strain on comforts, but most are proud to help the country in any way, including planting victory gardens and collecting rubber. But another change in the country is a new bigotry towards Japanese-Americans. Hate crimes spread like disease, with shops refusing service to the Japanese and innocent citizens being thrown in jail. And then the government creates Japanese incarceration camps.

Every person of Japanese descent, even little old ladies and tiny babies, is rounded up and imprisoned in incarceration camps. The conditions are appalling, with disgusting food, pit toilets, freezing cold conditions, and worst of all, stolen freedom. Piper feels horrid over the injustice of it all, and her father feels even worse and fights to help. He gets permission to continue working with his imprisoned parish when they are shipped to a bigger camp in Idaho, which means Piper has to go with him. She is devastated to leave her school, her friends, her sister and her first boyfriend, but her experiences will change her life forever.

Kirby Larson has won many writing awards, including a 2007 Newbery Honor for HATTIE BIG SKY. With THE FENCES BETWEEN US, Larson adds another important reminder of history to the Dear America series, as the novel is based on a true story in which a pastor did just what Piper’s father does. It brings a piece of history to life that must never be forgotten, lest it be repeated. The entire story is written as a diary, which gives readers an opportunity to see right into Piper’s heart. Larson writes with an honesty and openness that immediately bonds Piper to the readers. There is a massive amount happening alongside her emotional commentaries that keep the pages turning fast. The ending feels a bit abrupt, leaving readers yearning to know what transpires next, but also giving it a diary feel, like it is only a small slice of Piper’s life.

An epilogue does follow to explain what happens later in some of the characters’ lives. And after that is an interesting bit on history with photos and illustrations. This long-awaited return to the Dear America series is a special look back at history that entertains while also touching the heart.

Reviewed by Chris Shanley-Dillman on September 1, 2010

Dear America: The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis - Seattle, Washington, 1941
by Kirby Larson

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2010
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Press
  • ISBN-10: 0545224187
  • ISBN-13: 9780545224185