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Painting the Rainbow (book)

Creators: Amy Gordon

Coming-of-age novel for young readers about two thirteen-year old cousins at a New England family summer retreat in 1965 who grapple with both their changing relationship and with the discovery of family secrets stemming from the World War II period that tangentially involve the wartime incarceration of Japanese Americans.

The story is told mostly through the first-person voice of Holly Swanson, augmented with intermittent diary entries from her cousin, Ivy Greenwood, as both spend the summer in a New Hampshire resort town with the extended Greenwood family, an annual ritual. For the first time, Holly, a talented artist, is by herself, as her parents, both art history professors, are in California teaching and doing research. Ivy, a virtuoso piano player, arrives with her conflict ridden family of five: her older brother Randy, a long-haired student at UC Berkeley, civil rights activist, and outspoken opponent of the Vietnam War, clashes with their father Jake and middle brother Sam; meanwhile Jake and their mother Sandy argue frequently and seem headed for divorce. Upon arrival at Otter Lake, the girls find that their grandfather has prepared an old boat for them to explore the lake with, one that Jake and his late twin brother Jesse—whom no one in the family ever speaks of—had played with as boys. The girls decide to paint it in a rainbow scheme just as it had once been painted by the boys. As the summer goes on, the girls discover old letters and photographs that provide glimpses of Jesse's life and death—and of a mysterious Japanese man named Kiyoshi Mori—and Holly in particular becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to Jesse. In the meantime, Holly and Ivy, once the closest of friends, find themselves drifting apart over boys, differing interests, and Ivy's family problems. The various family conflicts come to a head, revealing family secrets rooted in the World War II years.

It is revealed that one of the characters worked as a teacher in Manzanar during the World War II, and we later meet a former student of that character who describes some key aspects of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans, including the " loyalty questionnaire " and the military service of Japanese Americans . However, this subplot involves a good amount of dramatic license. The family receives letters from Manzanar as early as January 1942, when in reality Executive Order 9066 that authorized the mass exclusion did not occur until February 19 and Manzanar did not open until March 22. (A timeline in the back of the book states that Manzanar opened on June 2, 1942; this is the date that administration of Manzanar transferred from the Wartime Civil Control Administration to the War Relocation Authority , not the date the camp actually opened.) Later, we learn that a white character was killed in a December "uprising" at Manzanar. While two people were indeed killed by gunfire during that episode, both were Japanese American inmates; no whites were killed at Manzanar or any of the other concentration camps. A Nisei character talks about his Issei father volunteering for the army from Manzanar; the "privilege" of volunteering for the army was limited to native-born American citizens. Finally, that Nisei character is sent to Japan to live with his grandparents right after the war by his U.S. Army veteran father, something that while theoretically possible, is a highly unlikely scenario.

Author Amy Gordon (1949– ) was born in Boston is is based in Gill, Massachusetts, where she has been a drama teacher at a boarding school. She has authored eleven children's books since 1983, most of them since 2003.

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

Painting the Rainbow

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

Might also like Kim/Kimi by Irwin Hadley; Beacon Hill Boys by Ken Mochizuki; Dusty Exile: Looking Back at Japanese Relocation During World War II by Catherine Embree Harris

Media Details
Author Amy Gordon
Pages 169
Publication Date 2014


Atkinson, Amy. "Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books July/August, 2014, 574–75. ["Gordon skillfully weaves in a lesson on war and politics, subtly revealing the many strong feelings and viewpoints that divide nations and families that are just as relevant today."]

Jones, Courtney. Booklist , Apr. 15, 2014, 61. ["Classic storytelling, with an assist from diary-entry passages by Ivy, imbues this rich tale with life and shapes the Greenwoods into unforgettable characters sure to stick with readers."]

Kirkus Reviews , Feb. 12, 2014. ["A story about a tumultuous family that lacks a certain element of hardship needed to make a book truly gripping."]

Publishers Weekly ["Beyond the girls' insights into events and changes that feel outside their control, Gordon's story will leave readers thinking about the politics and chaos of relationships and the effect war has on individuals."]