Paper Wishes

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Paper Wishes Book Poster Image
Sad, soulful story of grieving girl interned during WWII.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Depicts Japanese-American family's experience during World War II, keyed to major historical events. Author's note delves deeper into the history of the camps, and a resource list can extend learning.

Positive Messages

Grief needs to be fully felt and worked through, with love and support from people close to you. What we've loved and lost may be irreplaceable, but we'll be able to love again. Kindness and connection help make sadness more manageable. Loving family and friends can make difficult burdens easier to bear.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Manami's family and best friend are patient and understanding. They respect Manami's grief and give her space to process her emotions yet stay within close reach for whenever she's ready to reach out. They support and help each other adapt to the many changes they're enduring. Manami's teachers are warm and generous, transcending the social attitudes and political realities of the times. Her parents are especially challenged to adapt, but they prove flexible and openhearted.

Violence

Threatening graffiti, disconcerting presence of "wild boys," and terse, distant reports of a beating and then a riot that leaves two dead. Barbed wire, armed guards, and World War II make an ominous backdrop.

Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Paper Wishes is about a girl so traumatized by grief and guilt when her family is forced from their home that she goes mute. It follows the government's relocation of Japanese-American families to internment camps and probes themes of loss, healing, endurance, justice, and hope. Danger and violence skulk around the edges -- armed soldiers, reports of a deadly riot, and persistent uncertainty and unease -- but the story is tightly focused on the bonds between 10-year-old Manami and those closest to her.

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What's the story?

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Manami and her Japanese-American neighbors are ordered to leave their homes on Bainbridge Island near Seattle and relocate to a dusty "prison-village." A friend plans to take in her dog, Yujiin, but Manami tries to sneak him under her coat. Yujiin is discovered and taken from her on the mainland. Wracked with guilt for leaving Yujiin alone and feeling terribly homesick, Manami stops talking. An understanding teacher supplies her with paper and pencils, and Manami puts her thoughts to paper with pictures of home, the ocean, and Yujiin. She writes wishes for Yujiin to find her, but other dogs come to camp instead. While her wishes remain unanswered, Manami must decide whether to stay paralyzed or find a way to move on.

Is it any good?

This gentle novel lays bare the heartbreak of Japanese-Americans during World War II. It's both an illuminating look at a terrible time in U.S. history and a meditation on loss, grief, and healing. PAPER WISHES doesn't shrink from painful emotions: There are no easy answers or happy-ever-after endings here, but the light that emerges from the gloom shines brightly.

In her debut novel, Lois Sepahban writes with a rhythmic, poetic voice. Spare sentences echo the desolation of the Manzanar camp and Manami's spirit. She and her grandfather have an especially tender understanding through their shared grief for Yujiin and home, as well as his mourning for his late wife. Manami has great strength, even in her sorrow -- her deeply affecting story will stay with readers long after they finish this insightful novel.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the story's ending. Is it happy, sad, bittersweet? Do you find it satisfying?

  • How do you think your family would cope if you had to undergo an experience like Manami's family?

  • If someone close to you was as sad as Manami, how would you try to help?

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