fiction favorites…Journey to Topaz

Journey to Topaz, by Yoshiko Uchida, illustrated by Donald Carrick

On February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued an executive order authorizing the Secretary of War and his military commanders to prescribe areas from which any or all persons could be excluded.
“That means the entire West Coast,” Ken said flatly, “and ‘all persons’ means us — the Japanese.”
It was strange, Yuki thought, that the United States should be at war with Italy and Germany too, but that it was only the Japanese who were considered so dangerous to the country.
“It doesn’t seem fair,” she objected to Ken.
“The papers say it’s for our own safety,” Mother explained, trying to find some logical reason for such an illogical act.
Ken shrugged.  “I’d rather take a chance and have the choice of being free,” he said firmly.
“Me too,” Yuki added.
But then, of course, no one had asked their opinion.

Yuki Sakane is an 11-year-old girl from San Francisco.  Her pleasant, ordinary life is full of Christmas plans, best friends, Sunday dinners and school lessons…until December 7, 1941.  When the Japanese army bombs Pearl Harbor, Yuki’s Japanese-born father is suddenly taken into custody and transported to an internment camp in Montana.  Yuki, her mother, and 18-year-old brother are also removed from their home and sent to an internment camp in Topaz, Utah. 

Yuki is dumbfounded at this abrupt upheaval in her life.  Her gentle father, a prisoner?  Their belongings sold?  Her friends and neighbors left behind?  Yet all this is only the beginning of the monumental changes and suffering Yuki and her family must face.  Conditions at the camps are bleak and dirty; weather in the desert is harsh; life behind the imprisoning barbed wire feels suffocating.

One of the most beautiful elements of the story is Yuki’s mother — a strong, hopeful, steady force for good, no matter what new deprivations she faces.  Other new friends in the camp also become a sheltering family for one another. Despite the pain, grief, loss, and bitter sense of injustice elucidated here, a second,  overarching message of the story is  of  the human kindness and hope which brought these people through such a dark time.

This is a beautifully written, moving story, based on the author’s own experiences.  The details of Yuki’s Japanese-American traditions and mindset and life bolster the realism and authenticity of the account.  I really enjoyed this story and would recommend it for ages 9 -12 particularly.

Here’s the link on Amazon:  Journey To Topaz: A Story Of The Japanese-American Evacuation