Reading Level: Middle grades (8-10, 10-12)
Maturity Level: 3, 4 (ages 8-12)
If another nation bombs the U.S. on your birthday and catapults your nation into war, abruptly changing your community, you’d be mad, too. When this happens to 12-year-old Hazel Anderson, she channels her frustrations into working on a secret mission, scanning for evidence of Jap spies in her little Pacific Northwest corner of the U.S. Hazel’s world is populated by the cartoon caricatures of “Jap” enemies; her motivation is fueled by her adoration of her neighbor, Jed, who is off to the Pacific to fight those very Jap enemies. Hazel is caught up in the narrow-minded furor of her small community even though she doesn’t fully understand the issues. And one day, she makes a discovery that turns her little world upside down.
Hazel ends up befriending a real Japanese-American! In hiding, her new friend Sogoji depends on Hazel’s assistance to help maintain his cover. Hazel begins to recognize her parents’ behind-the-scenes efforts on behalf of Sogoji’s family, realizes that those caricatures of Japanese-Americans were just that: caricatures, and matures in her understanding of the gray areas in our world. A nation can simultaneously be our country’s enemy while individuals from that same nation can be our friends.
So many WWII novels focus on the Holocaust in Europe. My Friend the Enemy takes a sensitive look at the racism prevalent in our own country during that time period and gives young readers a timely look at what it means to befriend someone whose racial or cultural background is at odds on a national level with our own nation. Middle school students are notorious for making snap judgments about people based on factors outside the individual’s control. My Friend the Enemy gives a gentle reminder to look beyond the exterior, getting to know the person God has made in his image.
Written by our very own Janie Cheaney, My Friend the Enemy is a wonderful historical fiction work—partly because Janie avoids the trap of “imagining-how-it-would-feel-to-be-a-Japanese-American.” Instead, she tells a moving story of a girl like herself (white American) who broadens her understanding of other cultures. Children as young as nine or ten will enjoy this one.
Overall Value: 4.5 (out of 5)
- Moral/worldview value: 5
- Artistic value: 4
Categories: Middle Grades, Historical Fiction, Multicultural, HistoryCover image from amazon