April 2006

A garden in the desert

By Cynthia Kadohata
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Cynthia Kadohata follows her recent Newbery Medal winner Kira-Kira with another powerful portrayal of the human spirit in Weedflower. Since their parents' death, Japanese-American sixth grader Sumiko and her little brother, Tak-Tak, have lived with their uncle, aunt, grandfather and cousins on a flower farm in southern California. Although their source of income is carnations, Sumiko prefers the stock, or weedflower, that blankets the fields, and dreams of owning a flower shop.

Sumiko is no stranger to discrimination, especially when asked to leave a classmate's birthday party because she is not white, but life as she knows it crumbles when Japan bombs Pearl Harbor. Sumiko and the rest of her family are forced to leave their home and sent temporarily to a nearby racetrack (ironically, a facility that previously barred Asian Americans). Their final destination: a relocation center on a Mohave reservation in Arizona.

Despite the lack of barbed-wire fences used at other relocation camps, the inhabitants feel imprisoned by heat, dust and boredom. When Sumiko helps Mr. Moto create a garden out of their desert, adding stock seeds she saved, she discovers beauty and passion amid the war. She also finds an unlikely friendship with Frank, a Mohave boy. Each feels anger toward the other until Frank discovers that the Japanese-American farmers know about irrigation techniques that can make the desert fertile and Sumiko recognizes that the Native Americans have been denied civil rights just like her own people.

The author's well-researched novel provides an insightful, well-rounded look at a painful moment in this country's history. Although Kadohata concludes the story before the war's end, she leaves Sumiko ever hopeful in an uncertain future.

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By Cynthia Kadohata
ISBN 9780689865749

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