Cynthia Kadohata's Weedflower
Book review by Anita Lock
Special Teen Has a Gift for Growing Flowers
What if you suddenly found yourself orphaned?
What if government officials came to your door and forced you out of your home?
What if you were forced to live somewhere in crowded, unkempt conditions?
How would you feel?
It is possible that you have experienced some of these things, but the ordinary teenager has not. One can only imagine how a twelve-year-old Japanese-American girl would feel, let alone survive, under these circumstances during World War II. Let me tell you about Sumiko.
Review: Weedflower by Cynthia Dadohata
It is not clear in the narrative as to when or where it happened, but it did: a fatal car accident leaves a dad and mom dead and two children orphaned, namely Sumiko and her little brother, Tak-Tak.
Sumiko, who is now looking out for her brother, is overwhelmed and very fearful that they will end up in an orphanage.
They are fortunate, though, because relatives who live and work on a flower farm in California take them in. Both get involved in farm chores, and over time, Sumiko becomes skilled at the trade. There isn't a day that goes by that she doesn't miss her parents; however, her uncle says that she has gifted hands for growing flowers and, most importantly, identifying the best carnations that will sell at the town market.
Knowing that she has this special ability to grow weedflowers (flowers
grown in a field instead of a greenhouse), builds her self-esteem; her
hopes are high that she'll own a flower shop someday.
But this is a different time period and Sumiko's life is about to change significantly.
The year is 1941, a war is raging in Europe, and many Americans have become leery of Japanese-Americans because of Japan's alliance with Hitler. On December 7th the Japanese drop bombs on Pearl Harbor, and before the month ends, the American government forces Sumiko and her relatives to leave their farm and relocate to internment camps.
While her uncle and grandfather are taken to North Dakota, Sumiko, Tak-Tak, and the remainder of her relatives are sent to Arizona.
Carrying minimal belongings, Sumiko brings the only remembrance of the farm that she has: her grandfather's special collection of flower seeds. One can only wonder if Sumiko experiences déjà vu, feeling like an orphan as she leaves the place where she belongs, only to adjust to a deplorable camp (inundated with periodic dust storms) as her new home.
Sumiko finds it difficult to develop friendships until she meets Mr. Moto, an industrious and knowledgeable old man who decides to build a pond garden. A ray of hope crosses Sumiko's face when she remembers her uncle's words of praise and seizes an opportunity to convince Mr. Moto that flowers would be a nice addition to his garden.
In no time, Sumiko puts her gifted hands to work planting grandfather's precious strain.
When she is not tending to her garden, Sumiko looks for times of solitude in the bean fields, which are located at the edge of camp. It is during one of these moments that she encounters Frank, a Mohave Indian, who lives outside of the camp. Frank shares how bitter his people are over the American government carving up their reservation for the camp.
When Sumiko mentions what the government did to her people, they realize how much they have in common and soon become friends.
Now with friends and a garden to tend, life in the camp doesn't seem so bad; however, the American government changes the rules, permitting internees to find jobs outside of the camp. Her aunt has an opportunity to work in Chicago and Sumiko and Tak-Tak are given the option to come. But Sumiko has reservations about leaving the camp.
Will leaving actually offer her and Tak-Tak a better life - even having her own flower shop someday? She has gifted hands, after all, so she knows that there is hope.
Review: Weedflower by Cynthia Dadohata
Newbery Award-winning author, Kadohata, masterfully weaves a story and character development that provides readers with a small glimpse of life during a very disturbing part of American history. Though a work of fiction, Weedflower is loosely based on the internment of Japanese Americans in the Colorado River Relocation Center during World War II. Literature on this topic is sparse, and I am grateful to the author who saw it apt not only to educate our youth, but also to remember and honor those who have suffered at the hands of injustice.
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