Love grows in the face of fear in Love in the Library, a picture book based on the experiences of author Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s maternal grandparents in Minidoka, a World War II incarceration camp in Idaho.
As the book opens, a young woman named Tama has been forced to live at Minidoka for the past year, because in the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, being Japanese American is “treated like a crime.” Though she finds the camp unsettling, she makes the most of her assignment to work in the camp’s library. There, she is surrounded by books and receives regular visits from a man named George. It’s not until a conversation in which George validates Tama’s feelings of dread that she realizes he has been coming to the library to see her: “You can’t possibly be reading all those books you check out,” she tells him. “No,” he replies. “Do you see how long they are? I’m only human, you know.” They marry and have their first son while imprisoned at Minidoka.
Illustrator Yas Imamura’s soft, muted, earth-tone illustrations work wonders in bringing the characters and setting to life. Her fine, smooth lines gently capture the tenderness that permeates this tale, and backlit scenes seem to lift Tama and George from the page.
Tokuda-Hall depicts Tama as a multifaceted woman who is vulnerable yet tough, scared but willing to seek out the miraculous in her newly limited life. That she conveys Tama’s abiding spirit while also acknowledging the great injustice of the imprisonment of Japanese Americans during this time is important: Tokuda-Hall never sugarcoats Tama’s experience, and her author’s note emphasizes the hate that spawned the imprisonment: “Hate is not a virus; it is an American tradition,” she writes.
Love in the Library returns again and again to Tama’s search for the words to describe her experience, such as constant: “Constant questions. Constant worries. Constant fear.” Later, when Tama realizes that George loves her, he tells her that the word for when she feels “scared and sad and confused and frustrated and lonely and hopeful” is human.
Love in the Library is an exquisite piece of historical fiction and a love story for the ages.