Reading/Interest Level: Young Adult
Author: Jamie Ford
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Henry is glad to be Chinese. Some people mistake him for being Japanese, but the difference is especially important now, during World War II. Since the United States is fighting against Japan, Japanese-Americans are ostracized even more than the other immigrants. Henry’s father harbors serious prejudice toward the Japanese, and he makes Henry wear a button that reads “I am Chinese.” When another Asian girl comes to study at Henry’s school, which is almost exclusively all-white, Henry is ecstatic. Even after learning that she is Japanese, Henry cannot help but be drawn in by Keiko’s sweet nature and fighting spirit. Without telling his parents, Henry and Keiko develop a close friendship, which blossoms into something like love as they bond over the experience of being outsiders in a country that is supposed to be for everyone. When events of the war separate Henry and Keiko, they promise each other that they will find a way back to each other, but it takes far longer than they expected to finally meet again.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a work of historical fiction that is about a highly sensitive and emotional time in US history. Due to a narrative that is a little slower in pace, this book could be classified primarily as adult fiction, but the story is perfectly to young adults who would enjoy beautifully-written narrative about cultures, conflict, and friendship. Featured in Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet are real locations that had significance during World War II, like Seattle’s robust Chinatown and the Japanese internment camp Minidoka located in Idaho. It seems as though the author strives to stay as true to history as possible in her descriptions of these locations, and it is clear that extensive research went into writing the book, even though the characters themselves are fictionalized. This book explores World War II from very unique perspective. As a Chinese boy, Henry and his family are not subject to internment, but that doesn’t mean that Henry is not affected by the war.