The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner

I loved Susan Meissner’s As Bright as Heaven:

so I was excited to get her new novel, The Last Year of the War. This story was so interesting to me, because while I knew about the relocation of Japanese Americans into war camps, I had no idea that our government also rounded up and interred German nationals and German American citizens, too. This touching novel tells the story of two girls, one German and one Japanese, who become friends in the camp during 1944.

Description via NG

From the acclaimed author of Secrets of a Charmed Life and As Bright as Heaven comes a novel about a German American teenager whose life changes forever when her immigrant family is sent to an internment camp during World War II.

Elise Sontag is a typical Iowa fourteen-year-old in 1943–aware of the war but distanced from its reach. Then her father, a legal U.S. resident for nearly two decades, is suddenly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi sympathizer. The family is sent to an internment camp in Texas, where, behind the armed guards and barbed wire, Elise feels stripped of everything beloved and familiar, including her own identity.

The only thing that makes the camp bearable is meeting fellow internee Mariko Inoue, a Japanese-American teen from Los Angeles, whose friendship empowers Elise to believe the life she knew before the war will again be hers. Together in the desert wilderness, Elise and Mariko hold tight the dream of being young American women with a future beyond the fences.

But when the Sontag family is exchanged for American prisoners behind enemy lines in Germany, Elise will face head-on the person the war desires to make of her. In that devastating crucible she must discover if she has the will to rise above prejudice and hatred and re-claim her own destiny, or disappear into the image others have cast upon her.

The Last Year of the War tells a little-known story of World War II with great resonance for our own times and challenges the very notion of who we are when who we’ve always been is called into question.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy WWII novels! Thank you for my review copy!

Review: GARDEN OF STONES by Sophie Littlefield (releasing at the end of Feb., 2013)

Another recent Net Galley find for me was “Garden of Stones” by Sophie Littlefield. This story starts with a murder in modern-day Los Angeles with an unlikely suspect (an elderly and humble Japanese American women) and then travels to the past.

Fourteen-year-old Lucy Takeda is taken with her mother to the Manzanar internment camp at the outbreak of WWII. Lucy has recently lost her father and has the huge adjustment of going from being a confident and pampered child of privilege to a camp resident. Lucy’s beautiful mother, whose emotions and moods are both vulnerable and unstable, suffers from the harshness of camp life and the unwanted attentions of the male camp guards. Lucy is determined to adapt and make the best of their situation and to continue her studies. She befriends Jesse, another young internee, and finds her feelings growing for him. Then tragedy strikes and Lucy must learn to cope and to survive in the ever-changing and harsh world.

I enjoyed reading this novel, though there were several story lines in it (which all eventually come together). The present day focus is on the murder and the suspicion of Lucy as the murderer. Her daughter Patty is determined to prove her mother’s innocence, but first she must come to learn about and discover her mother’s true self and her past. Then we have the camp storyline, with Jesse’s story and Lucy’s mother’s story and a murder woven in. Next there is the “after camp” storyline of Lucy making a way for herself as a chambermaid in a motel. Eventually all the storylines converge in the present and all the questions are answered.

I’ve read several stories of internment camps, most of them as first person memoirs and often written for YA readers. Ms. Littlefield has done her research here as many of the harsh aspects of the camps are included. To me, the story would have stood by itself with just the storyline of the camp, and Lucy’s journey from being a protected child, to a camp refugee, to remaking herself after the war. I really didn’t need the murders or mysteries included, though I’m sure many readers will enjoy them. It was enough for me to read of the resiliency of the people who lived through these times.

Due to themes of abuse I wouldn’t say this is one for the kids, but I think adults will enjoy it. I just have to say, too – I love, love, love the cover!

Thanks to Net Galley and Harlequin for my copy .