Take What You Can Carry (book)
Creators: Kevin C. Pyle
Book cover. Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company
View in the Densho Encyclopedia
The lives of two older teen boys, Kyle and Ken, alternate stories in the graphic novel Take What You Can Carry (2012) by Kevin C. Pyle. Although experienced a generation apart, the stories of these two teens merge into a complete story of healing and redemption.
1970s Chicago is represented in washed blue panels: Kyle is a white suburban teen who begins to run with a bad crowd—he and his new friends begin vandalizing property and shoplifting for kicks. As the new guy in town, his daring escalates until he is caught by the police for shoplifting at a local convenience store. Kyle's outraged father works out a deal with the shopkeeper and Kyle must serve out his punishment by helping at the very store from which he got caught shoplifting.
1940s Manzanar is represented in muted brown panels: Ken is a frustrated and angry Japanese American teen who spends a lot of his day quietly observing others at the camp. Ken's story is told by pictures alone; there is no dialogue. He steals precious food and supplies to share with others when he can, and finds some solace in spending time with an older gentleman who carves beautiful wooden objects and teaches Ken his craft. While carving serves as an outlet for some of Ken's frustration, his fury erupts when guards confiscate the old man's carving tools. Ever observant, he sees where the guards hide the toolbox and returns at night to retrieve it.
Forward to the 1970s and the shopkeeper turns out to be none other than Ken, over thirty years later. Kyle works hard to pay off the debt he owes for his crime and does not rat out his friend/accomplice who has issues with an abusive father. After a month passes, Kyle wholeheartedly apologizes. Ken recognizes that Kyle has kept the identity of his friend secret to protect him. After much thought, Ken decides to share a secret with Kyle that he has kept buried since being incarcerated. Ken's wordless story continues: he shares how the guard catches him in the shed and points a gun at him. Terrified, Ken breaks down and shows the guard the dove he carved, indicating how important the tools are to the old man. After a tense moment, the guard holds his fingers to his lips and allows Ken to leave with the box.
In finally sharing this secret act of kindness from his past, Ken extends his understanding and forgiveness to Kyle. Although Kyle may not fully understand it yet, this ultimately helps both characters heal.
Following the story are historical notes and special topics addressed in the book such as the confiscation of the internees' belongings, reasons for an increase in crime in the camps, the breakdown of family structure due in part to the disruption of family mealtimes, and the role of arts and crafts in the camps.
Author and illustrator Kevin C. Pyle has had his work appear in the Village Voice , the New York Times , and the New Yorker . He dedicates his work to the artists of the camps.
Might also like Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner; A Fence Away From Freedom: Japanese Americans and World War II by Ellen Levine; Suitcase Sefton and the American Dream by Jay Feldman