Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

By: Jamie Ford

The last time I was visiting my parents I finished the book I was reading. My mom had just finished this book, so I grabbed it for my train ride back to the city. This book is definitely a quick read and very enjoyable. I don’t think the author’s writing is particularly unique or memorable—it is more the topic that will draw your attention.

Basic premise of the story is about a 12-year-old Chinese boy named Henry Lee. He lives in Seattle during World War II and goes to a “white” preparatory school. His parents want him to become more Americanized. He meets a Japanese girl at this school called Keiko. Although they live in the U.S., Henry’s father has strong ties to China and follows the fighting going on between the Chinese and Japanese. He hates the Japanese and will not allow his son to associate with anyone of Japanese descent. Of course, as you can guess, Keiko and Henry become good friends and then develop stronger feelings for each other.

That is the basic overview, but more than the relationship between Henry and Keiko, I was taken in by the descriptions of how Japanese families were treated during this time and then shipped off to internment camps. We’ve all learned about these camps in U.S. History classes, but this gave me a new, personal look into that time, and the anger and hatred that these families faced.

This is a book of fiction, but many of the places and some of the people mentioned in it are real. And the author did his research on the internment camps and relocation of Japanese families. I found the relationship between Keiko and Henry to become almost secondary to the real story of these families. And I wasn’t exactly sold on this teenage love being the right backdrop for this very important subject. I didn’t hate their little love, but I didn’t actually fully believe it either.

Essentially, I enjoyed the book for what I learned about that era and the look into the internment camps. I probably could have done with the pre-pubescent love story though. But who knows—maybe this isn’t a story that is geared toward me. Maybe this is a book that Ford intended for middle schoolers to read. Perhaps the author is simply a device to help engage younger readers in an historical story.

Regardless, it is a quick read and offers a unique insight into that time, place and issue in U.S. history. I say it’s definitely worth a read.

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