Summary: Around halfway through the book, Keiko’s family is sent to the Puyallup fair grounds with thousands of other Japanese family are being sent. The fairgrounds are temporarily being used as the local Japanese internment camp while the one farther inland is being made. Henry becomes very distressed because he doesn’t know if he’ll ever see Keiko again. That is until Mrs. Beatty offered him a job as her helper at the internment camp. Henry visits Keiko every week and he smuggles little things in for her family with the help of Mrs. Beatty. After a month or so of visiting every week, the time comes near when Keiko and her family will be sent farther inland. Henry is there for the last time and he is going to tell her how he really feels when he decides that it would be easier for both of them if he didn’t. When he just tells her goodbye without even giving her a hug, she starts tearing up and Henry just leaves. After a while of not getting any letters from Keiko, Henry starts thinking that she forgot about him, and Sheldon puts the idea into his head of going to visit her at the internment camp. At first Henry says no, but the next day he decides to do it. So Henry and Sheldon go on a train to Walla Walla Washington where they stop to eat lunch and they are incredibly surprised to notice that all the people there were extremely polite to them. After lunch they hop back on the train and make their way to Jerome, Idaho. the closest town to Minidoka, the name of the internment camp. Henry and Sheldon then hitch a ride with one of the visitor trucks to Minidoka. When they get there, Henry and Sheldon have to go to the visitors building where they have to write a note for whoever they want to visit and then wait until they come. Henry and his companion waited the better part of six hours until the visitor center was about to close. Henry decided that it was time to go and they could come back the next day. As they are walking away Henry hears his name being said. He turns around and Keiko is standing there on the other side of the fence. He runs up to the fence, grabs her hands and kisses her through the barbed wire fence. Henry stays with her family for that night and the whole next day. Toward evening, Henry says goodbye to Keiko and her family and slips out of the internment camp with the other volunteers. Henry and Sheldon Make their way home and arrive late Sunday night. For a whole year Henry and Keiko write each other regularly but the next two years Henry keeps writing her but she replies very rarely. Henry later found out that it was his father’s doing. Everytime Henry went to the post office a girl of his age would be there and every time he was left empty handed she would watch him walk away in grief. Around that time his father was extremely ill and was always inside laying down. When Henry came back from his visit with Keiko he found a very expensive suit laid out on his bed with a passenger ticket to China. For three years he refused to go because he was waiting for Keiko but after sending his last letter to her saying that he would be waiting at the Panama Hotel in a month and she never arrived he started thinking other wise. When he was waiting for Keiko and the hotel the girl from the post office came to give him the last letter he had sent Keiko. The letter had a big black stamp that said “RETURN TO SENDER”. The girl from the post office also gave him a handful of flowers. Her name was Ethel Chen. Ethel and Henry had been dating for five months and it was a week before Henry was going to leave for China. His father was about to die and with his last breath he said that he was the one who had blocked the mail going to and from Keiko. With that Henry decided not to go to China. Throughout the book, Jamie Ford, the author, jumped back and forth between 1942 and 1986. Towards the end of the book, in the time frame of 1986, Henry was visiting Sheldon who was an old man every week until the week he died in the company of his family and friends with “Oscar Holden and the Midnight Blue”, one of his favorite records he had played in. During that week before Sheldon died, Marty, (Henry son) found out where Keiko was living and contacted her. He also bought his father a round way plane ticket to New York City. At first Henry didn’t want to go, but then he gave in and flew to New York City. He arrived there at Keiko’s house and knocked on the door. She opened it and at that moment they both knew what was going to happen.
Evaluation: I picked up this book thinking it was going to be a boring history read with a bunch of facts and stuff but I turned out sincerely liking it. Part of what made me like it is the fact that I live only two hours away. Another cool thing was that when Henry and Sheldon went to Walla Walla and all the people were really nice, I thought to myself that when I went to Walla Walla everybody was very nice also. I also enjoyed Jamie Ford’s unique writing technique of switching back and forth between 40 years. The whole plot was very well set out because it has some action and adventure, while also containing some deep thoughts of some of the characters. The heart wrenching decisions and the anticipation of waiting for someone you love both added greatly to the pleasure of reading the book. It is very incredible to me that there was an actual internment camp right outside Seattle. This book was a pleasure to read and Jamie Ford slips just enough history in so that the readers barely notice but they come out of the book knowing more that they think. I would suggest this book to anyone who enjoys a relatable and bittersweet story.
Quote: “As you play this record, I hope you’ll think of the good, not the bad. Of what was, not what wasn’t meant to be. Of the time we spent together, not the time we’ve spent apart”(280). I think that this was exactly what Henry needed to hear, and even better that it was from Keiko itself because all those years Henry had been with Ethel, he had always thought about Keiko and what would have happened had he waited a bit longer. During all those years he hadn’t been focusing on all the incredible moments together as much as him yearning to know what if? Finally, when Ethel died, he went to satisfy his curiosity. When he entered her apartment and they started talking, Henry described the feeling “as if they hadn’t both lived a lifetime apart”(284). They both stood there standing, just as if they were standing on either side of that fence.
Summary: Jumping back and forth between 1942-45 and 1986, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet written by Jamie Ford, follows the life of a Chinese-American boy living in Seattle during World War Two who not only faces but lives the effects of racial segregation every day. Henry Lee, the young boy in the novel, almost every day of his life, lived under the strict influence and ruling of his anti-revolutionist parents, his “super-Chinese” parents (81). Having seen his people slaughtered in war when he was a kid, Henry’s father embodied the war, as if, “fighting [it] in his mind”, and expects completely of Henry to be in the same mode: anti-Japanese and 100 percent Chinese (235). They even make him wear an, “I am Chinese” button so people know he’s not the Japanese enemy. One day when working in the kitchen at his white school, a new girl arrives, a Japanese girl, who is also assigned to help with Henry. At first Henry is weary and keeps distance, but as time goes on, they find comfort and connection in each other as kids harass them every day and tear them down for their ethnicity. Their relationships booms, however he remains in a rut of what to do: love her as he does and go against his parents, or embrace his father’s belief. Then all Japanese families are forced to go into internment camps the girl leaves but their bond and the thought of her drives Henry to find her. But, “time apart has a way of creating distance”, and as time passed and new journeys began, and their connection weakens, and life goes on apart…until second chances manifest (208).
Evaluation: As a picky reader, I thoroughly enjoyed Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! The plot of the story was amazingly done, switching back between times, and the novel was a relatable and fun read! The history in the novel sets the book up in a unique way that is not just another love story, but one where the constricting obstacles are actual events that occurred in history. This creates a story that the reader feels could actually have occurred which intrigues them more and keeps them reading. With this said, the amount of information you learn is weaved in so well that a reader would not need to take notes while reading because it is not overwhelming at all. As well, the novel changed my perspective in a way that I appreciate things much more, and am just beginning to realize what others have endured especially a place so close to where I live now. It is unthinkable that one of the camps the Japanese were sent to was a fairground right down the road that I have been to before! I have not undergone what the main character had, but when he wondered, “If anyone going to the fair this year would feel different walking through the trophy barn…where two months earlier entire families had been sleeping there” (203). It may be because I am around the age of the characters, but as I read I felt like I could understand what some of the situations the kids were in may be like. There are so many aspects to this novel, and the way the characters go about it keeps the reader wanting to read more! You get so into the novel, hoping for the characters, praying that things will go a certain way for them and that everything will work out as it needs to! This novel brings together so many aspects of the time area and creates a well-rounded novel that is an enjoyable, sensible read. I would recommend it to anyone!
Recommendations: The Flamboya Tree
Quote: “The hardest choices in life aren’t between what’s right and what’s wrong but between what’s right and what’s best” (204). I believe this quote describes, in a nut shell, a major struggle the main character in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford endures throughout the novel and ends up tying into every conflict he come into account with. Having grown up in an anti-Japanese, “super-Chinese” (81) family, Henry realizes that he does not want to continue the inner war his parents are fighting between ethnicities. His heart is persuaded by a Japanese girl who he loves dearly and gets him to see the morality of his parents unfairness on the Japanese families, forcing him to make many, many decisions that go against what he has known. When Henry met Keiko, his need to make decisions began. She was a secret to his father because of his father’s beliefs. Once he was dedicated to her, more decisions followed: Should he go against the law for her? Should he find her? How or when to find her, to write her? After she leaves permanently, Henry is heartbroken, shunned in his house, and nearly friendless. An example of this is when he had nothing to lose, he had to decide between was right and what was better: Go to Keiko’s camp, or stay home like he was expected to. He decided, “I’m thirteen, I’m old enough to make my own decisions” (222) and turned a new leaf! As the story flips to 1986, when Henry is older, Henry reflects on his past, and is once again placed in a situation such as this. These decisions where a constant flow all his life and he had made them for what is best, sometimes sacrificing things that may of seem right.
Summary: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a very mesmerizing story that takes place in Seattle, Washington in the 1940s during WWII. Henry Lee, a 12 year old, Chinese boy has just moved to Seattle and is attending an all white school and endures the daily racism in silence. Then one day, Keiko Okabe, a Japanese girl moves to the same school. Even though the Japanese and Chinese are in conflict overseas and their families would not like them playing together, Keiko and Henry form a special, secret friendship. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, however, every Japanese person is put into concentration camps. Now Henry must decide what to do. Should he tell his parents about Keiko and betray them to save his friendship? This story is told from the point of view of Henry 40 years later and as he retells his childhood, the reader is taken through the streets of Seattle in the 1940s and through the bitter and sweet.
Evaluation: I really enjoyed this book because it involves true life events that happened only two hours from where I live. I enjoyed how it was told because it would flash back and forth between the present day and the 1940s. Jamie Ford wrote the story in a way that allowed the reader to really get to know the characters’ personalities. He also included many good messages about not being afraid to show who you are “You shouldn’t be ashamed of who you are, never more than right now” (Ford 122). This message was really able to help me understand what it was like to be a Japanese or Chinese person living in a white community during WWII. It was very interesting especially because it took place in Seattle, and I can not picture Seattle having concentration camps even during the war. This novel is a package with many surprises because it has the ability to tell an entertaining, fictional story, it is able to reveal some historical facts that actually happened, and it is able to bring laughter and tears to the reader’s eyes at the same time. In my opinion, I think this book is the perfect combination of bitter and sweet because it has a very sad conflict but also has some happiness tied into it. I recommend this story to anyone looking for a quick and easy but entertaining read!
Quote: “Henry learned that time apart has a way of creating distance—more than the mountains and time zone separating them. Real distance, the kind that makes you ache and stop wondering. Longing so bad that it begins to hurt to care so much” (Ford 245). In my opinion, this quote best demonstrates the theme of the book because there is a lot of heart ache and separation that occurs throughout the book. First, Henry becomes friends with Keiko which in his father’s eyes is betrayal which in turn, causes Henry to become estranged with his dad “His father pointed at the door.”If you walk out that door–if you walk out that door now, you are no longer part of this family. You are no longer Chinese. You are not part of us anymore. Not a part of me” (Ford 185). This is an example of how Henry creates distance with his family not only physically but also emotionally. Henry also becomes physically separated from Keiko when she goes to the concentration camps and when he gets sent to China by his parents. This quote helps illustrate the understanding that Henry has over this topic and he acknowledges the pain that separation in any way causes a person.