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Weedflower    by Cynthia Kadohata order for
by Cynthia Kadohata
Order:  USA  Can
Atheneum, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Twelve-year-old Sumiko lives in California with her grandfather Jiichan, her aunt and uncle, her small brother Tak-Tak, and two cousins, Ichiro and Bull (her parents died in a car crash years earlier). Though lonely - she's the only Japanese American in her school and faces some prejudice - Sumiko is content with her life. When not at school, she works hard in her uncle's flower nursery, where the family works together, growing and selling weedflowers (flowers grown in the field as opposed to a greenhouse). Sumiko especially loves 'the clovelike fragrance' of Stock, and dreams of one day owning her own flower shop.

Then Pearl Harbor tears an irreparable hole in the fabric of their lives. Her Uncle and Jiichan are taken away to a prison camp in North Dakota, a curfew is imposed, and Sumiko is flummoxed by a newspaper report that quotes a general as saying, 'The very fact that no sabotage has taken place to date is a disturbing and confirming indication that such action will be taken.' Her family is told they're being evacuated, and begin to sell their possessions for much less than they are worth. Mrs. Ono fears for her dog, but later receives a letter from a lady who has moved into her house and assures her that she'll care for it - one of a few kindnesses that lighten this dark time. Sumiko and her family are first taken to a nearby racetrack, and then by train to Poston, in a Mohave reservation in Arizona. Sumiko feels a mix of emotions - haji (shame) from her Japanese side, and anger from her American side.

At Poston, it's very hot and very dusty. Sumiko makes friends - a neighbor, Mr. Moto who grows beans and lets her plant flower seeds in his plot; a girl, Sachi, whose insecurity leads her to lie; and a Mohave boy named Frank, who's initially hostile to the Japanese presence on Indian land, as are all his people. Sumiko fights 'ultimate boredom' and sees things - like the beating of an inu (a camp informer) - that no child should see. As the reality and permanence of camp life sets in, Sumiko's dreams dwindle further and further out of reach. But she and Mr. Moto win third place in a camp garden competition, and her friendship with Frank grows deeper. Bull shares agricultural knowledge with Frank's brother (both end up enlisting as soldiers). And when internees are offered the opportunity to leave the camp, Sumiko doesn't want to go. It's Frank who, as a friend, persuades her that she should embrace her freedom.

Cynthia Kadohata tells this story with great empathy for the adolescent point of view - including regular insertions of Sumiko's muddled thoughts presented as lists of options. Weedflower is a beautiful tale of family, friendship and hope in a dark period of N. American history that should not be forgotten. The author's father was held in Poston during World War II, and she includes an End Note on the multitude of Japanese Americans and Indians who served - and died - in the armed forces.

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