Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Publisher: Candlewick
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Romance, Historical
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Set in an incarceration camp where the United States cruelly detained Japanese Americans during WWII and based on true events, this moving love story finds hope in heartbreak.

To fall in love is already a gift. But to fall in love in a place like Minidoka, a place built to make people feel like they weren’t human—that was miraculous.

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Tama is sent to live in a War Relocation Center in the desert. All Japanese Americans from the West Coast—elderly people, children, babies—now live in prison camps like Minidoka. To be who she is has become a crime, it seems, and Tama doesn’t know when or if she will ever leave. Trying not to think of the life she once had, she works in the camp’s tiny library, taking solace in pages bursting with color and light, love and fairness. And she isn’t the only one. George waits each morning by the door, his arms piled with books checked out the day before. As their friendship grows, Tama wonders: Can anyone possibly read so much? Is she the reason George comes to the library every day? Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s beautifully illustrated, elegant love story features a photo of the real Tama and George—the author’s grandparents—along with an afterword and other back matter for readers to learn more about a time in our history that continues to resonate.

Hope can sprout anywhere.

One of the most valuable portions of this story for me was how it gave concrete examples of how racism affected the daily lives of the two main characters and the other people they lived with. For example, the living conditions of the camp they stayed in were poor, and the narrator went into detail about how uncomfortable everyone was who lived there. These moments drove their points home in both subtle and overt ways.

I found myself wishing that the author had provided more details about why Japanese people were sent to incarceration camps in the United States during World War II and what their lives were like there. These are things that most adults are probably already aware of but that middle grade readers may not have been taught yet. I yearned to give it a higher rating as the subject matter is such an important one, but I wasn’t sure how interested kids would be in this tale if they didn’t already know the historical context of it.

I was delightfully surprised by how much hope the characters had for the future. The circumstances they were living under were incredibly difficult, and yet both Tama and George held onto the belief that better days could be on the way. That isn’t something that’s always easy to do, but it was the perfect addition to the other themes of the storyline as well. After all, life is often filled with mixtures of emotions like these.

Love in the Library was a thought-provoking read.

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