I was born on Pearl Harbor day. As an American girl and natural history buff, I like sharing a birthday with a monumental event in my country. As I’ve studied Pearl Harbor, I’ve learned about all the people who died, how the USA was catalyzed into joining a world war, and how, true to form, American citizens responded to tragedy with resounding patriotism.
Ignorantly, I never spent time learning about what those rallies of so-called patriotism around the country meant for a certain group of citizens—Japanese Americans. Emily Inouye Huey’s young adult novel Beneath the Wide Silk Sky exposed me to Pearl Harbor’s twin tragedy: American internment camps and the devastation preceding them.
Beneath the Wide Silk Sky follows Samantha Sakamoto, a sixteen year old girl from a small town in Washington. Sam balances the recent death of her mother, her aspirations to be a photographer like the famed Dorthea Lange, being a Japanese American girl in a high school mainly populated by white students, budding feeling’s for the boy her sister has a crush on, and the discriminatory fallout from Pearl Harbor.
Young adults will identify with Sam’s desire to find her voice and acceptance for who she is amongst peers all too eager to turn their backs on her.
As Sam struggles, Huey’s masterful writing does not. Though her first novel, the prose is fluid, mature, and descriptive in a delightfully understated way. The plot moves quickly enough that I was always excited to read the next chapter but slow enough that I was able to soak in Sam’s most captivating moments and grimmest experiences.
My favorite of Huey’s skills was her characterization. She paints a beautiful picture of the Japanese American community, and while there are stunning moments of solidarity and unity, she also poignantly articulates the nuances and various perspectives of Japanese American people. Each character, no matter how small, has a role to play—some are patriots, some are protestors, and some are both.
Sam uses her camera to capture the fraying silk threads that tie together her town, and though Pearl Harbor “gives those who already harbor prejudices an excuse to hate,” she hopes that one day her photography may expose bigotries and change hearts. Sam’s grit and bravery in telling her story and the story of her people make Beneath the Wide Silk Sky one of the most inspiring novels I have read to date.
—Madison Maloney, Inscape