This is the children's book equivalent of Oscar-bait. It deals with a serious subject seriously. It has bloodly brilliant art direction. But it doesn't make much sense, and when you go to rip on it, you feel bad because you don't want to look like you're ripping on Japanese Internment. I'm not ripping on Japanese Interment. I'm not ripping on writing children's books about serious subjects; in fact, our dark history is a necessary component of any child's education. I'm just ripping on this book.
The dust jacket – which I know I shouldn't read – claims this book is made up of “dreamlike sequences”. That's accurate, but in a bad way. The story seems stripped of logical connectives & annoyingly euphemistic. A man goes rafting. (?) He ends up in a Southwestern pueblo. (?) He meets some ghost kids, who lead him to ghost barracks. He realizes his grandfather was interned. He engages in the some symbolism to exorcise history.
I don't get why he was rafting. I don't understand the pueblos, which get used as a framing device. Was it because some of the camps were in the deserts of the Southwestern US? Is there some cheesy native spirit guide thing going on? (Please no.) I don't get if the kids at the end were real kids or ghost kids. Not that a picture book has be exhaustive or realistic in any way, but there were so many gaps that I had a hard time trying to explain what was up to the boy – not just the historical events, which fall into the massive wtf of most overtly racist acts, but the concrete action of the story itself.
But, to try to end on a good note, the art is hauntingly beautiful, in spare black, white and gray, with the odd hint of color here and there. The image of the two children with the tags on their coats, the long row of bleak barracks, the interior sketch of a small, empty room with a shadow falling long on the floorboards – these are images that conjure the emotion that is the opposite of nostalgia. Nostalgia is memory without shame. Ah.