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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is an adult historical fiction book by Jamie Ford.

It is 1986 and Henry Lee stands amid the crowd as the Panama Hotel finally gives up its secrets. Located near the heart of what was once Seattle’s Japantown, the hotel is finally reopening after being boarded up for decades. Piled high within the hotel’s basement is the belongings of many Japanese families who were sent to internment camps during World War II. As the belongs are displayed, Henry begins to remember the last time he stood in front of the Panama Hotel, forty years earlier.

So begins a narrative, alternating between past and present, that will reveal Henry’s childhood during a time of upheaval as WWII rages. Cultures clash and fear prevails as the reader witnesses history replay itself through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy.

How has the past shaped the man Henry is today? And what part can a young Japanese American girl have to play in it?

It took me about a quarter of the book to really get into this story. I found the beginning to be quite slow and I wasn’t really sure where the story was heading–a note: I never read the synopsis’ for my book club books; I just dive in. But I’m glad I stuck with it because this was really such a wonderful read.

This book talks about a period of time in American history that many people don’t know about, don’t know much about or don’t want to talk about. When first and second generation Japanese American families were forced to leave their homes and relocate to internment camps, where they were forced to live throughout WWII. And in the case of this book, we see a whole city’s worth of Japanese American’s having to give up their homes.

A few years ago, I read the juvenile fiction book Paper Wishes, which followed a Japanese family who was sent to one of these internment camps and The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet just brought me back to that book and even though it was a middle grade read, it was great remembering a book that took place inside of the internment camps.

The relationship between Henry and Keiko was so pure and to see what they went through was heartbreaking. I also loved how we got a glimpse of the 1940’s Jazz scene through Sheldon and the long lost Oscar Holden record.

This book gets 4.5 stars from me. Starts out slow, but worth sticking with.

That’s all for now!


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