August 27, 2013
Thin Wood Walls by David Patneaude
Thin Wood Walls
by David Patneaude
Joe Hanada is just a typical kid — he walks to school with his best friend, Ray, plays basketball and is looking forward to Christmas. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Bad enough for an American, but even worse if you are an American of Japanese descent. The next day at school, some of the kids are already treating him differently. Granted, it isn’t everyone, but someone did leave a racist cartoon on his desk. If only everyone was a good as Ray and his parents.
Because this is based on history, I don’t feel like its a spoiler to tell you that because Joe and his family live on the West Coast, they face times that are more than difficult. His father is arrested because of he is a leader in the Japanese American community. He is still gone with Joe and the rest of the family, including Joe’s grandmother, are forced into a relocation camp. Not surprisingly, the Hanada do not believe it is for their safety especially when someone living at the camp is shot by one of the guards.
I’m not going to discuss any more about the plot because Patneaude has pulled together a winner. Although the story is from Joe’s point of view, we are well aware of the struggles faced by each member of the family, from his brother, to his mother and even his aged Grandmother.
Bad things happen but this is a middle grade novel so the worst of it happens “off screen.” That said, the emotions are real and young readers will respond to the injustice faced by Hanada’s and others held at Tule Lake.
This isn’t a new book, it was published in 2004, but it deals with several timely topics. Although Joe has never been to Japan, he is hated because of the actions of Japanese soldiers and his family’s loyalty is questioned. I probably don’t need to point out the parallels between his story and that of various segments of our own population post 9/11.
Politics aside, Joe faces bullies at school and in the camp. The book also deals with themes of loyalty and family.
If you’ve ever read one of Patneaude’s books, you know that he doesn’t portray any group of people with a broad brush. The Hanada’s face prejudice from some neighbors but not all. Joe and his family are befriended by a young soldier at Tule Lake. Patneaude has created a realistically complex blend of characters sure to engage young readers.
This book is a must read not only for the history but also because it speaks so eloquently about the world will live in even today.