Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner, 144 pp, RL 4

Gaijin: American Prisoner of War
Purchased at Barnes & Noble
Inspired by his family history, with Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, Faulkner has crafted a graphic novel that is a moving story of the violation of human rights, discrimination, injustice and loss that is a great introduction for young readers to an aspect of American history they may not be familiar with. Life changing events occur the day Koji Miyamoto turns thirteen. It is December 7, 1941 and native San Franciscan Koji is the child of a Japanese father and American mother. Bullied at school for being a "Jap," and harassed by the police for being out after the curfew set for Japanese Americans, Koji struggles. Then, his mother gets a letter from the government ordering him to report to "relocation" camp, which Koji's mother tells him is a "fancy way to say prison camp." Taking Koji to the army headquarters in an effort to keep him at home with her results in the both of them being sent to Alameda Downs. Faulker shows readers the upheaval and injustice of the orders when Koji and his mother are allowed to bring only small suitcases with them and are forced to store and sell, at a significant loss, their belongings.

At the camp, Koji is bullied by older boys for being gaijin, an outsider, not Japanese. Koji's temper and the pressure to meet the increasingly dangerous demands of his tormentors results in him almost being sent to a juvenile detention center, but he is saved by a family friend. Along with 8,000 other prisoners, Koji and his mother are sent to Agua Dulce, which Faulkner based on Manzanar, a relocation camp that is now a National Historic Site in California. Faulkner ends his story six years later,  with Koji traveling to Japan where he is reunited with his father. 

Faulkner's author's note shares a family history that begins with his great-aunt Adeline Conlan, an Irish American singer who, during her world travels with her vaudeville troupe, fell in love with and married a Japanese man. An massive earthquake in 1923 sent Adeline and her infant daughter Mary to America where she was ostracized for marrying outside her religion and race. Adeline and Mary moved to California and, in 1942 Mary, now a grown woman with children, was ordered to the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Refusing to let her daughter and grandchildren be taken away from her, Adeline went to Manzanar with them, even though she had not been ordered to. Adeline and Mary never returned to Japan and, while she exchanged letters with him, Adeline never saw her husband again.

Over 120,000 people were interned at Manzanar. More than half of them were children and more than two-thirds were American citizens. Many lost homes, businesses and priceless personal items when they were forced into prison camps. Children lost years of education, despite efforts of prisoners to teach them. Faulkner's family history and his valuable graphic novel are a fine fist introduction to this time in American history that is still hard to fathom.


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