Hold onto your hats, I have a lot to say about this book. Mostly it is not good. Last week was a great example of the relaunched series. This week is not.
The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis, Seattle, Washington, 1941, Kirby Larson, 2010.
This was the first new book in the relaunched series. It is not good. Kirby Larson is a fine author, but her work isn’t really to my taste. Yeah, I read Hattie Big Sky and it just didn’t do it for me. This is a long book, too, maybe the longest of the DA novels at almost 300 pages, but covering only a year and a half, which is fairly short for that much text.
The problem with the book is just the premise. It’s about Piper Davis, the daughter of a pastor to a Japanese Baptist congregation in Seattle, and they follow their congregation when they are interned in a camp. I really, really disagree that this is a story that needs to be told, because the bulk of the story seems to be “White girl feels really bad that her friends and neighbours are incarcerated.” My Name is America managed to do a decent job covering it, as did Dear Canada, but the difference was that both of those stories focused on actual characters who were being wrongly persecuted for their ethnic background. This story doesn’t have that impact, because Piper isn’t at any point incarcerated, and she seems more spoiled than anything else. I just really, really, really, really disliked this book. I will try my best to be fair. But no promises.
Do you remember how the 1920s book in this series was bizarre and poorly-written and a mess? This one is worse, if you can believe it.
Grace of the Wild Rose Inn, Jennifer Armstrong, 1994.
I mentioned before how there’s a book in this series set in about 1899 or so, and it’s about one of the zillions of MacKenzie daughters who wants to go to college instead of getting married, but I couldn’t lay my hands on it so for the time being (and hopefully, for all time) this is going to be the final book in this series. And thank goodness, because it really goes out with a bang. And not a good one.
On a semi-interesting note, since there’s a relatively short (temporal) period between the 1920s book and this one, we get the interesting situation of the mother in this one being the girlfriend of Drunky Bob from the last book. If you don’t commit every one of my reviews to memory (and why not?), in Claire of the Wild Rose Inn, she has a younger brother Bob who is a hopeless sodden drunk at the age of sixteen (!) and knocks up his girlfriend, Hope, during the course of the book. That pregnancy results in the protagonist of this book, Grace, and Hope is “Mrs. MacKenzie.” I feel like one of the downsides to having a romance series about the daughters of this line is that they’re constantly marrying out of the family and screwing off to Other Stuff, so instead of being a story about mothers and daughters it’s a story about aunts and nieces. Which isn’t bad! It’s just that for a series that’s based on how special this one family is, it irritates me that they’re constantly marrying out. (Maybe the book I missed was a tour de force that eliminated all my problems with this series. But I doubt it.)
Well, this book puts me in a not-before-experienced situation. What if I just hated a book not because it was badly written or horrifically racist or dumb, but just because every single thing about the stupid book grated on my very last nerve?
My Secret War: The World War Two Diary of Madeline Beck, Long Island, New York, 1941, Mary Pope Osborne, 2009.
I will fully admit that this book is not bad. It is not bad in any way! For whatever reason, I find it infinitely annoying, and part of that is probably because the protagonist is too realistic. She’s a very realistic 13-year-old girl, and there’s a reason 13-year-old girls aren’t the centre of many non-YA novels—they can be irritating as hell. I can say that because I used to be one.
Barry Denenberg Redemption Arc, Part 1. Probably Part 1 of 1, but we’ll see. This is a step in the right direction.
One Eye Laughing, The Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss, Vienna, Austria, to New York, 1938, Barry Denenberg, 1938.
This is flat-out one of the most depressing DA books out there. It’s actually significantly more depressing than a book about slavery, and how awful is that? It’s far, far more depressing than the Titanic book where hundreds of people dying is the main plot!
Julie Weiss is a wealthy girl growing up in Austria with her family, where her father is a respected physician, her mother a renowned beauty, and her older brother a snotty intellectual college student. She likes to play cards with the family’s maid, Milli, and annoy her brother Max, and spend time with her best friend Sophy, and avoid practicing the piano, and so on. Her family is very, very well-off, and live in a large and fancy apartment in the centre of Vienna, complete with a dining room that seats twenty, priceless paintings, and so on.
This is one of my least favourite Dear Americas, but I’ll plug through it as it’s short.
Book: Early Sunday Morning: The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows, Hawaii, 1941.
This is another Barry Denenberg, because I figured while I was doing World War Two I may as well hit another one of the lowlights. His voice is so similar that almost all of his female characters end up sounding very similar, which bugs me a lot, but whatever.
The Journal of Ben Uchida, Citizen 13559: Mirror Lake Internment Camp, California, 1942, Barry Denenberg, 1999.
I trash on Barry Denenberg a lot because I don’t care for his characterizations of young female characters, and also because I tend to get frustrated with “old white man writes young women and characters of colour.” This falls into the latter category, and I wish so much that Scholastic had come up with an actual Japanese author—notably, Scholastic Canada’s similar book managed to do it with Torn Apart, The Diary of Mary Kobayashi, which is an internment diary about a Japanese-Canadian girl, and which actually is written by Susan Aihoshi, and is a significantly better book.
But enough about what I had wished this book could have been and let’s get on to what it actually is, which is one of the very few My Name is America books that I actually enjoyed and could probably be enjoyed by a twelve-year-old boy. Probably because it has a healthy dose of actual humorous entertainment value, unlike most of the other books, and unlike most of Barry Denenberg’s other books.
Ben Uchida is twelve years old, and in April of 1942 he and his family are getting ready to leave their home. They have no more stuff left, every last stick of it has been sold. A couple of weeks before Christmas in 1941, as everyone knows, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, scaring the crap out of America. That night his parents burn all of their Japanese things—the letters from their grandparents in Japan, their books, their records, their newspapers, their photo albums, his sister Naomi’s Japanese dolls, every last thing. But Ben’s parents won’t let him stay home from school, so he goes Monday morning to find that everyone is staring at him like he’s a freakshow.