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Dear America: Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson

Dear America is a series of historical novels for older girls published by Scholastic from 1996 to 2004 and has been relaunched. The first one is out this month. Dear America: The Dairy of Piper Davis: The Fences Between Us, Seattle, Washington, 1941 is a great premier edition for the relaunch.

Piper’s diary starts on a bright note on Saturday, Nov. 8, 1941 when many people in America were untouched by the war in Europe. Piper’s life is a good one, even though she is motherless. Her older sister, brother and pastor father, give her unending love. The family is not rich but they do not lack food and shelter. Piper’s father is the shepherd to a flock of Japanese residents in Seattle but the young girl has never set apart from her schoolmates because of her father’s avocation. While his Church body is small, Pastor Laurie is kept busy with his flock’s needs and Piper does not see as much of her father as she would like. Soon that will be the least of her worries.

When her brother Hank announces he has joined the Navy, Piper’s unhappy that he is going away. As he leaves home, he assures his family that the war in Europe will not touch him. However, soon Hank is sent to Hawaii. Of course, he is assigned to the Arizona.

Dec. 7, 1941 punches the Piper family and all of America in the guts. It is days before they learn that Hank has survived. However, the reaction to the Japanese community residing in Seattle, and elsewhere in America, is swift. Soon Japanese born in Japan and relocated to America, and those born in America, are being treated as spies and criminals, even old men and women.

Life has changed forever for young Piper, for her family and for her father’s Church. Through Piper’s eyes, we see what unbridled hate can do. In no time at all, Japanese are rounded up and put into camps. While he no longer has a church, Pastor Laurie still has a flock to see to and he travels to the temporary incarceration camp to help in any way he can. Piper is ostracized by some of her classmates because of her father’s affiliation with the Japanese.

When the Japanese from his church are sent to a relocation camp in Eden, Idaho, Piper’s life is again tipped upside down when her father follows his congregants there. We see the horror of it through her eyes, but also see the wonderful way in which the Japanese make do with their awful surroundings. We see Piper grow, mature and adjust to the new circumstances in a kind, loving manner.

Important to the story, although I’ve yet to mention it, is Piper’s love of photography. With her camera she is able to capture the people in her life and to take pictures for both herself and others as a way to hang onto memories.

Piper’s diary takes us through May Day, Saturday, May 1. There’s an epilogue which wraps up her story.

There are moments of despair and sadness here but there’s also hope for the future—all told in the irrepressible voice of Piper Davis.

If I had my druthers, every young person in America would read this story.

~Ginny

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