Sunday, August 1, 2010

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Sometimes life and books come together in interesting ways. I had planned a visit to my friends Stephanie and Rob's boat on Lake Union in Seattle last week. At the same time I was reading this book for my book group (composed of authors and illustrators and librarians - such a wonderful group). Although I did not have the opportunity to visit Chinatown and the International area where the book takes place in Seattle, I felt that I was experiencing the air they breathed and the foggy days with sunshine and 80 degree weather at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Summer stays light until 10 o'clock at night. What a beautiful city. But beautiful places can also be the sites of cruelty to human beings. I experienced that same feeling when I went to Selma, Alabama a year after the Civil Rights "Bloody Sunday" incident and the murder of Viola Liuzzo. [By the way, Unitarians were helping that struggle, and today they are also being arrested in Arizona protesting the violation of immigrants' rights. Once again Unitarians take the lead. I joined when I was 16 years old, along with Linus Pauling, the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles.]
Written by Jamie Ford, Hotel is the story of a 12 year-old Chinese boy who falls in love with a Japanese classmate at the largely white private school they are both attending. It is 1942 and World War II plays a big role in how this story plays out. Henry wears a button on his lapel that says "I am Chinese" so as not to be mistaken for a Japanese person. As Japanese families are rounded up, Henry's differences with his father, a Chinese patriot and Nationalist, deepen to the point of silence, that lasts until his father has a stroke. I don't want to give the entire plot here. Suffice it to say that this is a beautifully written book for adults, and some high school students who will relate to conflicts with parents, loving another from a different ethnicity, problems with bullies, and in Henry's case, sacrificing to help the girl he loves. Henry's best friend, not incidentally, is a brilliant saxophonist who plays on the street until he gets a gig with one of Seattle's greatest jazz musicians. The book flows smoothly and is a good read. But some of the incidents don't ring true and in general it lacks a certain depth. I recommend this for high school and public libraries.

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