Book Review: The Lucky Baseball: My Story in a Japanese-American Internment Camp, by Suzanne Lieurance
This middle-grade historical novel begins on the eve of the war. Our young hero, 12-year old Harry Yakamoto, lives in Seven Cedars, California with his father and grandparents in an apartment above their restaurant. In spite of the regular prejudice he encounters as a Japanese-American, he lives a reasonably happy life doing what he enjoys most: playing baseball and spending time with his family and friends. His biggest dream is to become a professional baseball player one day, but he has a series of obstacles. For one, his father expects him to run the family restaurant one day, and is not pleased when he sees Harry practicing ball too much. To add to that, he's not able to join the teams in town because a lot of the kids--especially a bully named Tony Rossi--are prejudiced against his background. In spite of all this, Harry tries to make the best of life.
Then his life turns upside down when the US declares war on Japan and he and his family are forced to relocate to a camp 200 miles away in the middle of the desert. There, his living quarters are reduced to a cold and dusty, small room he has to share with his family. Dirty latrines, poor food, rude guards, and another bully are some of his other new problems. But the fire of baseball eternally blazes in his heart and he soon forms a team and becomes the captain. Will Harry live his dream? Will he go back to Seven Cedars and live like a normal American without the evils of prejudice?
I'm not a fan of baseball, but I have to say I loved reading this book. The story and especially the protagonist drew me in from the beginning. Harry is a special character with a distinct voice and personality. He has his flaws, but is brave and pure at heart. He's the kind of young hero readers like to root for. The plot moves fairly quickly without a lot of exposition or description. I felt transported back in time and learned a lot about the camps. The Lucky Baseball offers a glimpse into the evils of war and the injustice of prejudice. What I especially like is that the author doesn't lecture or preach; the message comes through from the action.
The Lucky Baseball is 160 pages and is geared at grades 5 to 7. If you have a middle grader who loves baseball, this is a story he or she will surely enjoy. It is also excellent reading material for classrooms, as it offers many subjects for discussion. Highly recommended.