Written as historical fiction, this is a true story about a girl whose family made an unusual choice in 1945: to work in two of the incarceration centers where thousands of Japanese-Americans were imprisoned during World War II. Helen was twelve years old when she spent a year at Camp Amache in Colorado and Tule Lake Segregation Center in California. An ‘outsider on the inside,’ she made friends with kids who had been living behind barbed wire fences, under the scrutiny of armed guards, for three years. A perceptive and compassionate child, Helen struggled to understand the factors that led to this situation and was touched deeply by the tragedy unfolding before her. At the same time, she was intrigued by the beauty of the Japanese culture and found ways to have fun with her new friends within the confines of the camp. Helen never forgot this experience and shared her story seventy- five years later for young readers.
Aimed at young readers, Two Days and One Suitcase frankly explores disturbing aspects of this history (the lack of privacy in the camps, the mandated communal bathrooms, the government’s stripping of safety and sovereignty from its citizens), Neuberger and Parra don’t delve too deeply into the specific atrocities. The result is successful—age appropriate without shying away from the harsh realities. The authors include some overtly educational elements, with many chapters focused on vocabulary expansion, an introduction that lays out the historical basics, and an appendix.
The story follows a young woman’s observations over a short time period, meaning readers should not expect traditional plot progression, and the lack of a distinct beginning, middle, and end may be discouraging to young readers.There is very little in-depth focus on anyone but Helen and her sister–her father’s work, though interesting, remains in the background. But this is a fast-moving, thoughtful book, one that finds a young woman driven to memorialize a blemish on American history—and offering an education to readers today.
Takeaway: This true story, following a young woman’s drive to document injustice at a Japanese internment camp, is a staunch reminder to stand up to prejudice.
Great for fans of: Matt Faulkner’s Gaijin, Barry Denenberg’s The Journal of Ben Uchida.
Design and typography: B
Marketing copy: A-
A young girl's notebook becomes a testament to faith and dignity amid injustice.
Reviewed in the United States on October 14, 2020
I was in high school in the late 1970s before I had ever heard of Executive Order 9066 and the unjust imprisonment of over 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II, most of them U.S. citizens. Since then, public awareness has grown and several books, a few long ago published, have come to greater recognition in illumining this dark moment in U.S. history.
Most the stories I've encountered are intimate ones -- the struggles of individuals and families who suddenly found themselves uprooted from homes, farms and businesses in an epoch of war hysteria stoked by nearly a century of racism. "Two Days and One Suitcase" offers a very different intimate view -- the experience of a Caucasian family who chose to live and work with those interned in two camps -- Amache and Tule Lake -- during the waning days of the war.
From the reminisces of Helen Parra, "Two Days and One Suitcase" relates her family's story -- and the stories of the Japanese-American families they came to know and love -- through the voice of an 11-year-old Helen. This brave girl tries to make sense of the injustices she is witnessing but ultimately cannot grasp from her young point of view. Even her parents and older siblings, there to assist in the relocation of families as the camps close, grapple to explain matters adequately to Helen. They flounder because they all know that they can't; such racism, and the injustices born of it, makes no sense at all.
But even as the answers to Helen's questions (and ours) remain elusive, it's clear that Helen's heart is learning something else -- the saving power of compassion, friendship, solidarity and even the dignity of everyday life lived steadfastly amid the indignities imposed by communal toilets, mess halls, dust storms, barbed wire and guard towers. Helen grows up quickly in the company of her Japanese-American friends. And, she is fortunate to have a family who helps her to understand the suffering and indomitability of her friends through more adult eyes.
"Two Days and One Suitcase" is written for pre-teen and teen readers. Adults too, especially those not yet acquainted with this oft-buried chapter of American history, will gain much from the book even if they find the writing more suited to younger audiences. The authors offer family photos, additional educational context and useful website links in the appendix at the end. Finally, the book is written from the perspective of a young person and a family who live their Catholic faith devoutly. It's through the lenses of their faith that the injustices they witness appear all more glaring and immoral. These injustices should appear similarly immoral to anyone -- as they were then and as we find them now.
The book tells about the period of U.S. history at the end of World War II. While most people were happy when Japan surrendered and the last of the war’s combat had ended, tens of thousands of American citizens were left not knowing what their future would be. These citizens were being held prisoner, in camps run by their own government in remote areas of the western United States. They had done nothing wrong – other than being of Japanese ancestry. The prisoners in these camps included men, women, and children.
This book recounts the true story of the Hannan family. Lawrence is the army officer and father who decides to take reassignment to one of these camps instead of returning to his civilian life as a lawyer. His wife, Nelle, and children, Mari, Larry, and Helen (the co-author) go with him, and the whole family quickly learns that the rule of law, moral code about how we treat our neighbors, and even what it means to be an American, can change suddenly and terribly when a society is confronted with fear and prejudice.
Learn about how one family helped bring hope back to a group of Americans who had been told they are no longer welcome in their own country. While the father fights the legal battles to restore these citizens the rights that should never have been taken away, the rest of the family tries to restore some humanity to the harsh life in the camps.
This book teaches that one must always stand up to the wrongs of the world and fight for what is right and just, even when the rest of the world seems to be doing the opposite.