Flap copy from ARC:
"In 1986, Henry Lee, a Chinese American widower, comes upong a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattles Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now a new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families left behind when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during WWII. As Henry looks on, memories take him back to the 1940s.
At the height of the war, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student, at the exclusive Ranier Elementary. They for a friendship- and an innocent love- that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. After Keiko and her family are evacuated to the internment camps, she and Henry are left with only the hope that the war will end and that their promise to each other will be kept."
I've read some reviews that thought this book was over the top on the sentimental scale, but I truly enjoyed it. This is a moving tale of innocence and love during one of the darker chapters of our nation's history. Watching Henry struggle to reconcile his own feelings with his father's bigotry against the backdrop of the internment process was captivating; I literally couldn't put this book down.
I found it heartbreaking that it was Keiko's family, better assimilated and determined to view themselves as American, that suffered while Henry's "I am Chinese" button kept him safe in an uncertain world. As all of Seattle unraveled around them, Henry and Keiko tried so hard to remain true to the principles of acceptance, and it was so often unexpected people that helped them along their way.
Unlike most books that flashback to the WWII period, I did not find myself irritated by the present-day narrative. Henry's interactions with his son, and gradual realization that he was repeating the same mistake of silence were as compelling as his history with Keiko, and I was delighted at the resolution of the novel.
A highly recommended 5 stars for this one!