Longlisted for the National Book Award, “A Place to Belong” is a historical fiction gem by Cynthia Kadohata that relates the poignant story of a Japanese family after World War II, free after spending almost four years in a “high-security segregation center” during the war. Their fate after the war is grim—like many Japanese Americans they are forced to relinquish their citizenship and return to Japan.
Readers will have empathy for Hanako Tachibana, the Japanese girl narrating this immersive novel. Her story begins on the “gigantic ship” taking her father, mother and little brother Akira, and other uprooted Japanese Americans to Japan.
Confused and torn between two countries, Hanako is anxiety-ridden about what to expect. Hanako must adapt to a new language, get used to foreign customs and a completely different way of life. Still Hanako joyfully anticipates meeting her father’s parents and staying with them in the countryside where they are farmers.
Nothing, however, prepares Hanako for the family’s arrival in Japan, the chaos of temporarily living in a barracks and the horror of seeing Hiroshima, a city in rubble, the injured and scarred staggering about like the walking dead. Another “rickety train” ride takes them to meet her grandparents. While happiness abounds at their introduction, Hanako’s family’s problems don’t end there—in a country hanging on by a thread, where hunger is rampant, and orphans from the war beg for rice the Tachibanas can’t relinquish.
“A Place to Belong” is riveting, a must read that brings history to light through the eyes of a young Japanese girl torn between two countries but deeply rooted in family. Ages 10-14.