Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban

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This quiet story takes us into the mind of a Japanese-American girl who finds herself an alien in her own country.

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban.  Farrar Strauss Giroux, 2016, 175 pages + author notepaper-wishes

Reading Level: Middle Grades, 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-12

Life is good for ten-year-old Manami, who lives on Bainbridge Island with her fisherman father and grandfather, mother, and (last but not least) best friend Yujiin, a loveable white pooch.  Though her parents were born in Japan, Washington is home to Manani—until that terrible day when the US government told her it was not.  However strange the experience of sorting out their possessions and  packing up all they can carry in one suitcase each, nothing prepares her for the last wrenching blow, when Yujiin is torn out of her arms: No dogs! That’s the rule.  Without Jujiin, the internment camp at Manzibar is nothing like home:

When I open my mouth to speak, the dirt no longer feels like sand.  It sticks to my lips and tongue.  It coats my throat so I cannot speak . . . I wish the dirt would cloud my eyes, too, so I would not see this place that is and is not my home without Yujiin.

The voice is muted, subtle and slightly formal, appropriate for young girl whose first language is not English.  The plot is subdued also—most of the historical context is supplied in the author note.  We are allowed to know only what Manami knows.  Though much is unspoken, what comes through are her feelings, especially confusion and sorrow for her past life that was so abruptly taken away.  For her lost voice, Manani substitutes pictures she draws and feeds to the ever-present wind—all cries for the past to come back.  The ending does not restore her former happiness but it offers a substitute that may be just as good.  Or even better.  Life can be like that, sometimes.

Cautions: Violence (gang incidents in the internment camp; not graphic)

Overall rating: 4 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic value: 4.5

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