Why: This is the second book that I requested from my library after Joli posted her books from the 1990s article. I was just going to read one of these beloved Dear America books, but then two caught my eye, and let’s be honest, they don’t take long to get through! The event this story focuses on is the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and I’m currently reading Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand which is a biography of a WWII POW in the Pacific theater. It seemed fitting to add this short story to my reading agenda.
The Story: The diary of twelve year old Amber Billows shares the story of a daughter that is forced to move with her family time and again due to her father’s work as a journalist. When Al Billows is assigned to cover the war from Honolulu, the family makes the move from Washington, DC to the much different territory of Hawaii.
It’s like we’re moving to another planet.
Arriving in the fall of 1941, the Billows find themselves immersed in not only a new culture, but in the beginning of war in the Pacific. Amber shares her view on moving halfway around the world, surviving the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and what life was like as the military worked to respond to the attack.
Opinion: I had high expectations of this book when I started out. As a lover of military history and WWII in particular, the first entry sucked me in and I could sense a connection to Amber Billows. Unfortunately, for me, that was the high point of the piece. While author Barry Denenberg created a naivety to the voice that truly felt as if the twelve year old were describing the events and adding commentary, the plot line was extremely flat. A majority of the work (all 129 pages of it) focused on Amber’s inner struggles with friendship and the days leading up to December 7th. All well and good, but it felt like page filler that didn’t advance the story or provide much character development. The attack and Amber’s work with her mother in the hospital are well-written, but brief, and I felt that it would have been possible to expound on the trauma and tragedy these women witnessed, even while keeping it PG for the kiddies. Instead, entries from December 7th on are almost positive sounding and lead to an end that is both abrupt and unsatisfactory for this reader. Even the epilogue (usually one of my favorite parts) is less than two pages long, and answers maybe a third of the holes left in the story.
Kame is ashamed. Ashamed that she is Japanese. Ashamed that she has the face of the enemy.
Recommendation: Barry Denenberg has written some of my favorite Dear America stories including When Will This Cruel War Be Over? and So Far From Home, but I would recommend those over this book in a heartbeat. Not a bad choice for young readers by any means, I just believe that there are better choices to provide both enjoyment and education. Would also not promote this title for adult readers as I did A City Tossed and Broken.
Journaling Prompts: (If you haven’t read any of my other reviews, I enjoy putting together a few questions about the book for those that have already read, or choose to read the book after viewing this post!)
- What books does Amber elect to take on the plane to Hawaii? What would you choose for a long journey like that?
- What policy does the Billows family have that Amber finds ironic?
- What book does Mr. Poole give to Amber? Why do you think the author chose that title?
- Mr. Poole tells Lieutenant Lockhart that “Experience is a costly school. But a fool will learn in no other.” How do you react to this statement?