“PAPER WISHES,” by Lois Sepahban, Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR), Jan. 5, 2016, Hardcover, $16.99 (ages 9-12)
I’ve always loved historical fiction, but it feels a bit sparse in the middle-grade genre. That’s why I’m so glad I found “Paper Wishes,” by Lois Sepahban. It’s by far one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and it’s great historical fiction.
“Paper Wishes” opens just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Ten-year-old Manami knows something is wrong, but doesn’t understand the full meaning of recent events. Then her family is told the must leave their home on Bainbridge Island and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert.
Not only is each person limited to what they can carry — one suitcase — but they must leave all pets behind as well. Manami decides to sneak her grandfather’s dog, Yujiin, under her coat and gets as far as the mainland before she is caught and forced to leave him behind. The loss of Yujiin is devastating to both Manami and her grandfather, and Manami literally loses her voice. She can’t give up hope that their beloved pet will somehow find their camp and make their family complete again.
At first glance, “Paper Wishes” is an unassuming book, but it is oh so much more. My heart broke for Manami as she was forced to give away her dog. I understood her guilt and the overpowering sadness that filed her soul.
Sepahban’s reserved prose and respectful approach punches you in the gut. The simplicity of its form exposes the intricacies and beauty hidden beneath the surface.
I read “Paper Wishes” as a digital review copy from the book’s publisher, but it will soon be on my bookshelf in physical form. It’s a book I want to read more than once, and it’s one that I want to read with my daughter when she’s old enough.