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A Diamond in the Desert (book)

Creators: Kathryn Fitzmaurice

Book cover. Courtesy of Puffin Books
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Novel for children centering on Tetsuo Kishi, a teenager at the Gila River , Arizona, concentration camp who finds solace in baseball.


Before the war, Tetsuo lives with his eight-year-old sister Kimi and parents on a 200-acre farm in California. But his father, a community leader, is arrested after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Tetsuo, Kimi, and their mother soon find themselves behind barbed wire at Gila River, after a stint in horse stall at the Tulare Assembly Center . Initially discouraged by the lack of privacy, poor food, and dust storms, his spirits are lifted when two neighbor boys and their baseball coach father move in next door, and the father announces a plan to build a baseball diamond in the camp. Tetsuo enthusiastically joins the effort. But when he abandons Kimi to go to baseball practice, causing her to disappear into the desert for a night and contract valley fever, he is devastated and loses his desire to play baseball as Kimi slowly recovers. He works loading trucks at the truck pool with friends, one of whom, Horse, has gone mute after losing his parents on a fishing boat during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Will Tetsuo ever regain his love for baseball? Written in Tetsuo's first person voice (he ages from twelve to sixteen in the novel), the action is episodic, as in a diary.

Author Background, Historical Accuracy, and Reception

Author Kathryn Fitzmaurice dreamed of becoming a writer like her science fiction writer grandmother Eleanor Robinson, but settled in as an elementary school teacher based in Dana Point, California. Inspired to start writing again at age forty, her resulting middle grade novel The Year the Swallows Came Early (2009) gained great acclaim. She learned of baseball in the Japanese American concentration camps through a National History Day project by a student whose grandfather played at Gila. She based A Diamond in the Desert on many real events, including the story of Kenichi Zenimura and Zenimura Field, and interviewed former players Tetsuo Furukawa, Jack Shosan Shimasaki, and Howard Zenimura. [1]

The events and descriptions of camp life are generally accurate. One small error is a reference to Japanese American guards patrolling the camp (pages 20 and 97); while there were Japanese American policemen in the camp, all guards patrolling the camp perimeter were non-Japanese American. She also writes of Tetsuo's father attending a meeting with War Relocation Authority (WRA) Director Dillon Myer in early 1945 that leads to many families considering leaving the camp; while the WRA certainly encouraged inmates to leave, such efforts had been ongoing for at least two years by that point.

The uniformly positive reviews praised the "restrained vignettes threaded with poetic language" and "fluid language and vivid imagery" as well as the book's potential appeal for reluctant readers. [2] Linda Perkins of Booklist notes that "Tetsu's restrained narration occasionally slips into an adult voice, but his feelings and frustrations ring true." [3]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like: The Lucky Baseball: My Story in a Japanese-American Internment Camp ; The Journal of Ben Uchida: Citizen 13559, Mirror Lake Internment Camp ; Missing in Action ; Under the Blood Red Sun , House of the Red Fish


  1. "Kathryn Fitzmaurice," Contemporary Authors Online , Gale, 2011, accessed on Nov. 3, 2016 at; Peter Larsen, "O.C. Writer Gets Grandma's Gift of Inspiration," Orange County Register , Aug. 21, 2013, accessed on Nov 4, 2016 at .
  2. Kirkus Reviews , Dec. 1, 2011, 2227, accessed on Nov. 3, 2016 at ; Mary Beth Rassulo, School Library Journal , Feb. 2012, 118; Sarah Wendorf, Library Media Connection , Aug./Sept. 2012, 67.
  3. Linda Perkins, Booklist , March 15, 2012, 62.
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A Diamond in the Desert

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Media Details
Author Kathryn Fitzmaurice
Pages 258
Publication Date 2012
Awards Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers, VOYA, 2012


Kirkus Reviews , Dec. 1, 2011, 2227. ["Fitzmaurice has Tetsu describe his experiences and feelings in restrained vignettes threaded with poetic language."]

Perkins, Linda. Booklist , March 15, 2012, 62. ["Tetsu’s restrained narration occasionally slips into an adult voice, but his feelings and frustrations ring true. A solid, affecting choice for multicultural and WWII studies, with resources for student research appended."]

Publishers Weekly , Dec. 12, 2011, 69. ["Tetsu provides intimate first-person narration throughout, as Fitzmaurice captures the dismal circumstances and somber mood of the camp, but also the much-needed hope that baseball provided for a few of those who were forced to live there."]

Rassulo, Mary Beth. School Library Journal , Feb. 2012, 118. ["Moving the story forward with fluid language and vivid imagery, Fitzmaurice hits home with this important piece of historical fiction."]

VOYA 35.6 (Feb. 2013): 521. ["Fitzmaurice entwines information and specific events that she learned about from interviews with former camp residents with poetic language and descriptions of everyday life for Tetsu…. The reader sees a clear representation of patience during adversity and making the best of it while living in what has come to be seen as a shameful time in our history."]

Wendorf, Sarah. Library Media Connection , Aug./Sept. 2012, 67. ["This book provides a striking glimpse at internment camp life and would fit well with the study of World War II or human rights. The way one character handles grief will be a discussion point. Divided into short scenes, this book is an accessible read for reluctant readers."]