Henry Lee is a 12-year-old Chinese boy who falls in love with Keiko Okabe, a 12-year-old Japanese girl, while they are scholarship students at a prestigious private school in World War II Seattle.
Henry hides the relationship from his parents, who would disown him if they knew he had a Japanese friend. His father insists that Henry wear an “I am Chinese” button everywhere he goes because Japanese residents of Seattle have begun to be shipped off by the thousands to relocation centers.
This is an old-fashioned historical novel that alternates between the early 1940s and 1984, after Henry’s wife Ethel has died of cancer.
A particularly appealing aspect of the story is young Henry’s fascination with jazz and his friendship with Sheldon, an older black saxophonist just making a name for himself in the many jazz venues near Henry’s home.
Other aspects of the story are more typical of the genre: the bullies that plague Henry, his lack of connection with his father, and later with his own son.
Readers will care about Henry as he is forced to make decisions and accept circumstances that separate him from both his family and the love of his life.
While the novel is less perfect as literature than John Hamamura’s Color of the Sea (Thomas Dunne, 2006), the setting and quietly moving, romantic story are commendable.—Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.