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For Sumiko, it all starts with the birthday party of one of her classmates. When she arrives at a party to which the entire class has been invited, she is quietly and firmly ejected for being Japanese.

"It's not me, dear," her classmate's mother says as she pushes Sumiko out the door, "but my husband has a few friends in back, some of the other parents who helped him raise some money for a charity we work with…." The possibility that the other parents might take offense to Sumiko being Japanese is enough for Sumiko to lose her invitation to the party. What she doesn't realize is that these attitudes shared by many of the hakujin (white people) are also enough for her to lose her home.

When the United States is attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor, the government rounds up all the Niekki --- people of Japanese ancestry, including American-born citizens --- sending them to internment camps in the center of the country. Leaving behind their flower farm, their home, and most of their belongings, Sumiko and her family are shipped to a relocation center in the Sonoran desert.

There, amidst the grief and distress of an uprooted life, they do their best to rebuild their lives and form a community. For Sumiko this means planting a garden filled with the colorful and spicy-smelling weedflowers they farmed at home.

Cynthia Kadohata won a Newbery Award for KIRA-KIRA, her portrait of a family of Japanese factory workers living in Georgia after WWII. One of the most difficult challenges for any writer is following up on such a resounding success. A book on Japanese internment camps is a subject that will resonate with librarians and teachers, but what is uncertain is whether or not it will also appeal to young readers.

The author shows a deft touch in her handling of the material. She avoids sensationalism in the treatment of her characters and their experiences. Deprivation and violence aren't necessary in showing the painful loss of homes and civil liberties. While there are definite similarities between the political climate during WWII and that of our own post-9/11 world, Kadohata doesn't burden her narrative with contemporary political baggage.

The power of WEEDFLOWER is in Kadohata's clarity of detail and her deeply personal approach to the material. When Sumiko is feeling sorriest for herself, she meets Frank, a Mohave boy who is angry that the American government has placed the Japanese internment camp on the Mohave reservation. He tells Sumiko that the Mohave do not have the running water and electricity that are part of the amenities at camp. "You're not the first people to lose things," he says.

Sumiko recalls her grandfather telling her about his immigration from Japan. "I don't see sky for many long time. I feel close to ultimate boredom. That mean close to lose mind. Inside myself, I feel like screaming. Outside myself, I calm." Instead of giving into "the ultimate boredom," Sumiko makes the desert bloom.

Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on April 1, 2006

by Cynthia Kadohata

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2006
  • Genres: Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 0689865740
  • ISBN-13: 9780689865749