Creators: Dean Hughes
Book cover. Courtesy of Atheneum Books
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Yukus "Yuki" Nakahara and his best friend Shigeo "Shig" Omura are high school students in Berkeley, CA, when Pearl Harbor is attacked. Yuki's father is arrested by the FBI days after—he is considered suspicious because he maintains contact with friends and family in Japan and publishes a Japanese-language newspaper. The families and other Japanese Americans in the area are forced from their homes, taken first to Tanforan Assembly Center , and then to Topaz concentration camp in central Utah. While they are there, Yuki decides to enlist in the newly created all-Nisei combat team to prove he is an American and bring honor back to his family. Shig agrees to enlist as well. The two boys promise to watch each other's backs.
In basic training Yuki and Shig meet a number of characters, from tough-talking "buddhaheads" from Hawai'i to a "hapa" (half-Japanese, half-white) sergeant who grew up in Hawai'i. They start to question whether or not they will be able to fight as they are beaten down by basic training. Yuki and Shig are both assigned to F Company of the 442. Once they are shipped out to Europe and see fighting for the first time, they are unsettled and dismayed by how different real war is from what they imagined. In each of the battles they face, ranging from efforts to take strategic positions in Italy to the terrible effort to rescue the Lost Battalion in the Vosges Forest in France—Hughes actually traces the real F Company's timeline throughout the novel—Yuki and Shig confront how war is changing them, wonder if they can go back to the lives they left behind, and ask what difference their sacrifices will make in changing how Japanese Americans are viewed at home.
Dean Hughes is a prolific author who has published over one hundred books covering a range of topics for all reading levels. He is also the author of Missing in Action .
Hughes repeatedly uses the acronym AJA—Americans of Japanese Ancestry—as the shorthand to refer to Japanese Americans. This is a term commonly used to refer to people of Japanese ancestry in Hawai'i. Among Japanese Americans along the West Coast, of which Yuki and Shig would have been part, the more common term is Japanese American, or JA.
In the first chapter, the FBI agents warn Yuki's mother not to violate the newly implemented curfew that starts at 8 pm. The curfew this most likely refers to was not implemented until March 24, 1942, three months after the events described in this chapter take place.
Yuki is described witnessing a poster being pasted onto a pole in Berkeley in March; he explains that he knows what it is about because EO 9066 , issued by the President, requires all people of Japanese ancestry to register with the government. Aliens—that is, the Issei —had been required to register with the government, but in 1940. EO 9066 granted the military the authority to establish military areas from which anyone could be excluded at their discretion. It did not create a registration system. The poster being pasted on a pole is most likely referring to the most iconic action taken during this time, the putting up of the posters announcing the Exclusion Order of people of Japanese Ancestry, with specific instructions about which neighborhoods would be made to leave by which date. In most cases, communities were given 2 weeks between when the orders were issued and when they were made to leave.
Carter, Betty. Horn Book Magazine (Nov./Dec .2016): 75. ["A predictable story arc lessens the novel's tension; still, Yuki emerges as a true hero during a dark period of American history."]
Kirkus Reviews , Aug 30, 2016. ["They learn that honor is not a public display but rather something earned (or not) by comrades undergoing extreme hardship and covering one another’s backs."]
Young, Michelle. Booklist (Nov 1, 2016): 56-57. ["This is historical fiction at its finest—immersive and inspirational."]