Release date: January 7th, 2020
Publisher: Tor Teen
Price: $17.99 (USD)
Blurb: From award-winning YA author Andrew Fukuda comes The Light Between Us, a powerfully affecting story of World War II about the unlikeliest of pen pals–a Japanese American boy and a French Jewish girl–as they fight to maintain hope in a time of war.
“I remember visiting Manzanar Camp in California and standing in the windswept plains where over ten thousand internees were once imprisoned, their voices cut off. I remember how much I wanted to write a story that did right by them. Hopefully this book delivers.”–Andrew Fukuda
In 1935, ten-year-old Alex Maki from Bainbridge Island, Washington is disgusted when he’s forced to become pen pals with Charlie Levy of Paris, France–a girl. He thought she was a boy. In spite of Alex’s reluctance, their letters continue to fly across the Atlantic–and along with them the shared hopes and dreams of friendship. Until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the growing Nazi persecution of Jews force them to confront the darkest aspects of human nature.
From the desolation of an internment camp on the plains of Manzanar to the horrors of Auschwitz and the devastation of European battlefields, the only thing they can hold onto are the memories of their letters. But nothing can dispel the light between them.
Many thanks to Tor Teen, particularly their amazing publicists for emailing me a Netgalley widget to download this emotionally charged novel about the plight of a Japanese-American teen during World War II. Initially I was dubious as to whether I would enjoy The Light Between Us, but after around 50 pages I was hooked.
Holy forking shirtballs, this novel was amazing. So much so that its midnight and I am frantically tapping out this review in the dark in a corner of my bedroom so as to not wake up the other inhabitants of my house – thank you to whoever invented backlit keyboards and quiet keyboards. It took me on an emotional rollercoaster that despite being extremely bumpy, I didn’t want to leave until the ride was done. Even then I sat here like that cat Mittens in the meme where he has lost his toy under the fridge, staring at my ereader wondering whether I should eternally hate it or caress it gently for bringing me one of my favourite reads of the year.
The story starts out with Alex and his older brother Frank living their relatively easy life on Bainbridge Island, a settlement mostly populated by Japanese immigrants and the Nisei children. Alex has a pen pal in Paris named Charlie with whom he as been corresponding on a regular basis despite his initial disgust at finding out Charlie is in fact a she. Life is good until the bombing of Pearl Harbour, the catastrophic event that set into motion the segregation and evacuation of all Japanese/Japanese-American occupants to internment camps across the country. Meanwhile Charlie, being Jewish and living in Paris during the German occupation is attempting to avoid detection and removal to an internment camp in Europe simply for existing.
Being an Australian and despite this tale being mostly fiction (as confirmed in the final pages of the novel by Fukuda himself) some character were utilised that were historically accurate; I found myself undergoing an education as to the plight of the Japanese in the US during WWII. While not completely oblivious to America’s treatment of their citizens, I was not aware of the scale of these atrocities. Fukuda describes in great detail the discrimination borne by the residents of the Manzanar camp and invokes a renewed feeling of disgust with every event that unfolds. I found myself on multiple occasions needing to take mental health breaks from this gripping narrative as my heart slowly but surely shattered into a thousand pieces with each death and despicable act. Acts which seem to once again be coming into vogue, not only in USA’s treatment of illegal immigrants but also with my own government in their treatment of those on Manus Island and other such installations. But I digress.
Alex and Charlie’s story is told through correspondence between the two as well as being narrated in the third person for the most part. In the beginning these letters are frequent and flippant, the children discuss the view from their window and their disdain for certain persons in their life. As the two mature so does their letters content, discussing crushes and their own friendship that crosses oceans, before finally turning to their plight in the war. Eventually the letters stop completely once the war hits its peak devastation and the third person narration takes the forefront. Honestly, at first, I thought this would become tedious but the skill with which Fukuda has intertwined this pairs fates feels effortless and extremely well thought out.
Also, I will give you a heads up. The ending was not what I predicted, and it absolutely, positively killed me. By the final chapters, I was reading this novel through tears (thanks Science for my waterproof e-reader) and was left with a distinct feeling of emptiness which I will now have to fill with something upbeat otherwise I will definitely end up in a slump. This book is so emotionally charged that I will warn anyone who takes the plunge – and you should DEFINITELY take the plunge – expect to feel deflated and emotionally raw, but in a way that provides reflection rather than internalised destruction of your soul.
So as to keep this short, what you really need to know is this. This Light Between Us will take your emotions, tear them out, stomp on them, spit on the remains, rinse and repeat. Rarely have I found a work of literature that has affected me so profoundly as Andrew Fukuda’s latest masterpiece. While starting out sweet and cute, it quickly becomes fraught with danger and rebellion, only to progress to a point where the protagonist Alex will do anything to save bring his family together and attempt to find his lost pen pal. It’s a heart wrenching masterpiece that is not only educational but also ingenious in its mixing of media.
Until next time lovelies xo