Beacon Hill Boys (book)
Creators: Ken Mochizuki
Book cover. Courtesy of Scholastic
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Novel for young adults by Ken Mochizuki about a Sansei teenager's quest for identity and meaning in 1972 Seattle.
Protagonist Dan Inagaki, a junior at Hoover High School, is the long-haired misfit in his seemingly perfect Nisei /Sansei family. His father, a machinist at Boeing, is narrowly focused on status and achievement and neither he nor Dan's mother are willing to ever talk about the past. Dan's brother Brad, a senior, is a star athlete and straight-A student headed to Stanford and someone his parents continually compare Dan to. Dan's buddies—the "boys" of the title—are other Sansei misfits: Eddie Kanegae, an aspiring musician who adopts an exaggerated African American style; Frank Ishimoto, a child of divorce whose family is financially strapped; and Jerry Ito, a menacing figure who deals drugs and has a penchant for violence. In struggling against the hectoring of his family and the low status he and his friends share at school—along with his unrequited desire for the seemingly perfect Sansei girl, Janet Ishino—he wonders why all the Japanese Americans are obsessed with status, while at the same time, are so deferential towards whites and those in authority. But after some racist incidents at school, Dan stands up and begins to find himself in a nascent push for ethnic studies.
Dan and his peers' lack of knowledge of the wartime incarceration—and their parents' unwillingness to talk about it—serve as a running theme through the novel. An older history teacher rebuffs his questions about the incarceration, but a younger one brought in to teach the new ethnic studies class teaches him much he didn't know about his parents' experience. Later, Eddie's father, the one relatively tolerant Nisei, tells Dan about Dan's own father's service in the Military Intelligence Service . Brad's white girlfriend Christine tells Dan about her uncle, one of the men of the "Lost Battalion" rescued by Nisei soldiers in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team .
Author Ken Mochizuki based the novel in part on his own experiences as a 1972 graduate of Cleveland High School in Seattle, the model for Hoover. Cleveland really did have a Comparative American Cultures class that greatly influenced Mochizuki, and like Dan, he was involved in efforts to get more books relevant to the ethnic American experience into the school library. While pursuing an acting career in Los Angeles, Mochizuki wrote the first version of the manuscript in 1981. Recognizing the cinematic nature of the story, his friends Dean Hayasaka and Bill Blauvent turned the manuscript into a screenplay, and the three made a pioneering 43-minute dramatic film with the same title in 1984–85. After writing acclaimed children's books for younger children in the 1990s ( Baseball Saved Us , Lee & Low, 1993 and Heroes , Lee & Low, 1995), Mochizuki returned to Beacon Hill Boys , eventually publishing a cleaned up version for young adults as his first novel for Scholastic in 2002. 
Reviews were mixed. Reviewers praised the glimpse at a "rarely heard" American culture, the handling of universal themes of teen angst, and the evocation of the 1970s setting, while some found the book too didactic and Dan's transformation to activist unconvincing.
- Jerry Large, "Author Sets 'Beacon Hill Boys' in Racially Diverse Halls of His School Days," Seattle Times , March 9, 2003, http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=20030309&slug=jdl09 Seattle Times; Ken Mochizuki, "First Local APA Dramatic Film 'Beacon Hill Boys' Fades in Again," International Examiner , Oct. 4, 2006, 14, http://www.iexaminer.org/2006/10/first-local-apa-dramatic-film-%E2%80%9Cbeacon-hill-boys%E2%80%9D-fades-in-again/ ; Ken Mochizuki website, http://kenmochizuki.com/book.htm , all accessed on November 21, 2016.
For More Information
Publisher's website: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/beacon-hill-boys .
Author's website: http://kenmochizuki.com/book.htm .
Jerry Large. "Author Sets 'Beacon Hill Boys' in Racially Diverse Halls of His School Days." Seattle Times , March 9, 2003.
Bott, C.J. VOYA , Feb. 2003, 479. ["Mochizuki presents voices of American culture that are rarely heard."]
Bridges, Josephine. The Asian Reporter , Feb. 18–24, 2003, 16. ["One of the great strengths of Beacon Hill Boys is the depth of its characters and the extent to which they learn and grow."]
Engberg, Gillian. Booklist , Nov. 15, 2002, 595. ["The '70s lingo, which some readers will find amusing, is occasionally distracting, and well-drawn individual scenes don't always integrate as a whole, particularly those involving Dan's progression to activist. But the author nicely balances universal experiences of male adolescence—confusion about girls, parental expectations, pressure to do drugs, building a family of friends—with scenes that bring readers right into the complicated era, and his important, thought-provoking story asks tough questions about racial and cultural identity, prejudice, and family."]
Follos, Alison. School Library Journal , Jan. 2003, 140–41. ["A rambling plot diminishes the effect of an otherwise authentic portrayal. Events are slow going, indicative of the lifestyle of a floundering '70s teen. After all the troubles of Dan's daily life, the ending is too neat and tidy. His personal revelations are a fizzle, leaving him (and readers) still hungry for stories from his father's day."]
Kirkus Reviews , Nov. 15, 2002. ["The flavor is highly autobiographical, and indeed, Mochizuki grew up in Seattle during this time period, and has commented on his own struggle with prejudice. Perhaps it is the veil of fiction that makes this episodic narrative seem distant from the character's inner turmoil. On the other hand, it is perhaps Mochizuki's closeness to the people and events that makes it seem more of a recitation of painful memories that even time and distance haven't softened."]
Kory, Fern. The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, Feb. 2003, 247. ["Mochizuki's first novel has an obtrusive purposiveness absent from his picture books..., making this largely an animated history lesson; the dialogue is sometimes unconvincing and Dan's narration is often unsubtle. It is nonetheless an unusual look at changing historical viewpoints, and fans of '70s culture will enjoy the groovy atmosphere…."]
Publishers Weekly , Nov. 11, 2002, 65–66. ["Mochizuki evokes the period well…. While the novel will be of particular interest to readers who share Dan's ethnic and cultural heritage, the author's understanding of teen conflicts and the need to forge an individual identity should resonate with a broader audience."]