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Color of the Sea (book)

Creators: John Hamamura

Book cover. Courtesy of Thomas Dunne Books
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

A coming-of-age novel by first time novelist John Hamamura centering on a Kibei raised in Japan, Hawai'i, and California and that climaxes with his wartime experiences that include arrest, the Military Intelligence Service , and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. The book won an Alex Award from the Young Adult Library Services Association in 2007.

The book centers on Isamu "Sam" Hamada, a Kibei mostly raised outside of Hiroshima and who returns to Hawai'i with his father at age nine in 1930. The narrative follows his life in Hawai'i, where he excels in school and becomes a martial arts expert; his journey to California to attend college, where he lives with an uncle and falls for Keiko Yanagi, a local Nisei girl; and the trauma of the war that encompasses American concentration camps, Sam teaching at the Military Intelligence Service Language School and embarking on a secret mission in Okinawa at the end of the war, and the atomic bombing and its aftermath. In the second half of the book, Keiko emerges as a co-lead character, and the story follows her and her family to Japan just prior to the war and their wartime incarceration in American concentration camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The book is divided into five sections that span the years from 1930 to 1947.

About two-thirds of the book takes place before the war and most of the wartime sections take place on battlefields or in Japan, with only a brief glimpse of forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans. Keiko and her family are sent to the Stockton Assembly Center and later to the Jerome , Arkansas, concentration camp. Sam's cousin, Dewey, and Kekio's brother, Al, both volunteer for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and serve in Europe. Keiko's father Shoji is arrested on Pearl Harbor day and eventually rejoins the family in Stockton and Jerome.

The book received generally positive reviews with reviewers praising the storytelling, characterizations and historical scope, but also noting "some melodramatic moments" and implausibilities in the plotting. Though not explicitly written for the young adult audience, the book was one of ten recipients of the Alex Award in 2007, awarded to books written for adults that have a special appeal to the the young adults (ages 12 to 18) audience.

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho
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Find in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration

Color of the Sea

This item has been made freely available in the Digital Library of Japanese American Incarceration , a collaborative project with Internet Archive .

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Media Details
Author John Hamamura
Pages 306
Publication Date 2006
Awards Alex Award, 2007
For More Information

For More Information

Author's official website that includes excerpts from the book: .

Hamamura, John. Color of the Sea . New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006. 321 pages.



Haggas, Carol. Booklist , March 15, 2006, 27. [“To be a Japanese American in mid-twentieth-century American was to be perceived as neither Japanese nor American, and it is this conflict that informs Hamamura’s ambitious coming-of-age novel, in which the fate of two people amid the devastation of war reveals how the promises of honor and the security of love can rescue souls and restore faith.”]

Kirkus Reviews , February 15, 2006, 48. [“A poignant, fresh story told with feeling and sincerity.”]

Kumabe, Kerry , PopMatters , Oct. 11, 2006.

Publisher's Weekly , Dec. 12, 2005, 36–37. [“The romantic material is solid if idealized; various martial arts chapters have a clumsily formal quality; Sam’s final military adventure at Okinawa strains credibility; an extended passage on the bombing of Hiroshima is motivated only by placing Sam’s parents and siblings there.]

Quan, Shirley N. "Color of the Sea." Library Journal 131, no. 1: 97. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost. ["Overall, these plot highlights hardly delineate Hamamura's fine characterization. His writing honestly portrays the individual struggles of the immigrant experience as well as defines the equally difficult struggles of their American-born offspring."]