Jamie Ford’s historical fiction is a sentimental World War II love story about the forbidden friendship between a twelve-year-old Chinese American boy, Henry Lee, and his Japanese American classmate, Keiko Okabe. Set in Seattle, Washington, the story begins in 1986 as Henry mourns the death of his wife, Ethel. When Henry passes the historic Panama Hotel, he sees its owner announce the newly discovered, forgotten belongings of Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during the war. Henry wonders if Keiko’s things are among these unclaimed possessions and he dares to hope to find a special gift from long ago.
Ford looks at a dark period of American history in which Japanese Americans were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II, for fear they were collaborating with Japan. Chinese Americans also disliked and shunned Japanese immigrants, including Henry’s father, a devoted Chinese nationalist. Henry and Keiko are drawn to each other, as the only Asian students on scholarship at their school, and a deep friendship develops. When Keiko’s family is sent away, Henry wonders if he will ever see her again.
Henry struggles with his feelings of loyalty to his family culture and his own desire to embrace an American independence, which is paralleled in the modern portion of the story, between Henry and his son, Marty. But the young Henry discovers he doesn’t fit in either worlds. His father forces Henry to speak only English and Henry is shunned and bullied by his American classmates for being Chinese.
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an enjoyable love story, with some predictable characters, including Sheldon, a black saxophone street musician, Mrs. Beatty, a rough-talking lunch lady at Henry’s school, and Chaz the bully. And while the plot takes some twists and turns, it winds up in a nice place.
Although Ford’s story is for all readers, I think it fits nicely into the Young Adult genre, because of its historical background and somewhat simple plot.
Click here to learn more about the Panama Hotel.
Thanks for visiting – come back soon!