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The Fences Between Us: The Diary of Piper Davis (book)

Creators: Kirby Larson

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Book cover. Courtesy of Scholastic
View in the Densho Encyclopedia

Novel for elementary and middle schoolers about a young white teenage girl's experience of World War II including the Japanese American removal and incarceration told in the form of a diary. The Fences Between Us is part of the Dear America series, all of which are written in the form of diaries by young women/girls from various key moments in U.S. history.

Piper Davis is the youngest daughter of Rev. Emery Davis, the pastor of the Seattle Japanese Baptist Church. Piper's mother had died when she was a baby, so she had been raised in part by a governess, Mrs. Harada. As the story begins, Piper's brother Hank has just enlisted in the navy, while her sister, Margie, is a college student. The thirteen-year-old Piper, an avid photographer, has a best friend, Trixie, and a crush on a classmate Bud Greene. On weekends, she helps her father with church Sunday schools.

The Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor is doubly shocking for the Davis family: beyond the surprise of the attack itself, they know that Hank had been stationed there, on the U.S.S. Arizona . As they wait for news, Rev. Davis goes to the aid of several families whose husbands/fathers have been arrested by the FBI, including Mr. Harada and the father of Piper's friend, Betty Sato. Tensions rise in the community and at school, where some of Piper's friends express anti-Japanese feelings. Piper is confused, on the one hand, supporting security measures aimed at Japanese Americans, but knowing that people like the Haradas and Satos are just as American as she. We see the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans through Piper's eyes, as she makes frequent visits to Puyallup with her father. Resentful at times that her father seems to care more about the incarcerated Japanese Americans than his own family, she is later shocked when her father decides to move to Idaho to minister to his congregation incarcerated at Minidoka . Between the Japanese American elements of the story, Piper writes of a first boyfriend, girl friends at school, and older brothers, both Hank and Jim, Betty's older brother.

Author Kirby Larson, a Seattle native, was inspired in part to write the book by the story of Rev. Emery Andrews , the real life pastor of Seattle Japanese Baptist Church whose story roughly parallels Rev. Davis's. Ada Mahon , the principal of Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, is also portrayed in the novel. Larson later wrote a second book with the incarceration as its backdrop, Dash (2014), about a girl from Bainbridge Island, Washington , who was forced to leave her beloved dog behind when she and her family are forcibly removed.

Reviewers praised Piper's "convincing narration" and believable voice and the integration of historical detail into the narrative. [1] Terry Hong of the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center's BookDragon blog and Kim Dare in School Library Journal highlighted the many supplementary materials included in the book and on the publisher's website. [2] One reviewer found the ending "a bit abrupt," while another found that the "diary format forces the narrative into some unrealistic situations." [3] Tamiko Nimura in the International Examiner notes that Japanese Americans might be disappointed that the story is told through the eyes of a white protagonist, rather than a Japanese American one. [4]

Historical Errors/Implausibilities

March 18, 1942 diary entry: Piper notes Executive Order 9102, which formed the War Relocation Authority (WRA), claimed to be "the people responsible for moving people out of the military zones." While the WRA administered the concentration camps that held the removed Japanese Americans, it did not oversee the forced removal of Japanese Americans; this was the responsibility of the Wartime Civil Control Administration , a civilian branch of the army.

While mostly accurate, two numerical claims about Japanese Americans in the "Life in America in 1941" section are incorrect. On page 274, it is claimed that 90% of Japanese Americans lived in California. If one includes Hawai'i, the figure is about 33%; if one includes only the continental U.S., the figure is about 74%. On page 280, it is claimed that 1,000 Nisei volunteered for military service from Minidoka. The actual figure based on official WRA records is 594—219 who volunteered prior to January 20, 1944, and 375 who were drafted after that date. Minidoka did have the largest number of volunteers of the any of the WRA camps and also suffered the highest number of casualties. [5]

Authored by Brian Niiya , Densho

Might also like Dash by Kirby Larson; Dust of Eden by Mariko Nagai; Weedflower by Sylvia Kadohata

Footnotes

  1. Kim Dare, School Library Journal , Dec. 2010, 118; Kirkus Reviews , Aug. 15, 2010, accessed on Dec. 18, 2015 at https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kirby-larson/fences-between-us/ ; Gillian Engberg, Booklist , July 2010, 60
  2. Terry Hong, BookDragon: Books for the Multi-Culti Reader, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Dec. 7, 2013, accessed on Dec. 18, 2015 at http://smithsonianapa.org/bookdragon/the-fences-between-us-the-diary-of-piper-davis-seattle-washington-1941-by-kirby-larson/ ; Dare, School Library Journal .
  3. Chris Shanley-Dillman, teenreads.com, Sept. 1, 2010, accessed on Dec. 18, 2015 at http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/dear-america-the-fences-between-us-the-diary-of-piper-davis-seattle-washington-1941 ; Ann Reddy, VOYA , Oct. 2010, 352.
  4. Tamiko Nimura, International Examiner , June 20–July 3, 2012, 12.
  5. Population figures are taken from the 1940 U.S. Census and are thus approximate for the state of affairs in the spring of 1942. Military service figures are from The Evacuated People: A Quantitative Description (Washington, D.C.: War Relocation Authority/U.S. Department of the Interior, n.d. [1946]): 128–29.
Media Details
Author Kirby Larson
Pages 313
Publication Date 2010
For More Information

For More Information

Scholastic web site: http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/fences-between-us .

Piper Davis's scrapbook on Scholastic site: http://www.scholastic.com/dearamerica/piperscrapbook.htm#/0 .

Author website: http://www.kirbylarson.com .

Dear America Series- Kirby Larson interview http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WoewO0Y3KVo

Reviews

Reviews

Dare, Kim. School Library Journal , Dec. 2010, 118. ["Piper's convincing narration allows readers to appreciate the dilemma that occurs when individual rights seem to clash with national security."]

Engberg, Gillian. Booklist , July 1, 2010, 60. ["Larson deftly folds historical detail into Piper's lively diary entries...."]

Hong, Terry . BookDragon: Books for the Multi-Culti Reader . Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Dec. 7, 2013. ["The fictional diary expounds and entertains, revealing a 13-year-old's West Coast experiences during World War II; the ending "Life in America in 1941" section illuminates and educates, providing readers resonating historical and personal context to one of America's most shameful wartime decisions."]

Kirkus Reviews , Aug. 15, 2010. ["Piper's voice is believably that of a young girl in the war years, and though the narrative is somewhat episodic, it has plenty of emotional resonance."]

Nimura, Tamiko. International Examiner , June 20–July 3, 2012, 12.

Reddy, Ann. VOYA , Oct. 2010, 352. ["The diary format forces the narrative into some unrealistic situations, but the formulaic structure provides a comfort level for readers familiar with the series."]

Shanley-Dillman, Chris . teenreads.com, Sept, 1, 2010. ["The ending feels a bit abrupt, leaving readers yearning to know what transpires next...."]