The War Outside
author : monica hesse
pages : [hardcover] 336
favorite character : haruko
A novel of conviction, friendship, and betrayal.
It’s 1944, and World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific. The war seemed far away from Margot in Iowa and Haruko in Colorado–until they were uprooted to dusty Texas, all because of the places their parents once called home: Germany and Japan.
Haruko and Margot meet at the high school in Crystal City, a “family internment camp” for those accused of colluding with the enemy. The teens discover that they are polar opposites in so many ways, except for one that seems to override all the others: the camp is changing them, day by day, and piece by piece. Haruko finds herself consumed by fear for her soldier brother and distrust of her father, who she knows is keeping something from her. And Margot is doing everything she can to keep her family whole as her mother’s health deteriorates and her rational, patriotic father becomes a man who distrusts America and fraternizes with Nazis.
With everything around them falling apart, Margot and Haruko find solace in their growing, secret friendship. But in a prison the government has deemed full of spies, can they trust anyone–even each other?
I received a copy of this book from The Novl in exchange for my honest review.
Ya’ll, I love reading historical fiction, particularly if it’s set in the WWII era. I just think there are so many stories left to tell about that time period and, especially as time goes on, it’s particularly important to ensure everyone is educated on this history. After all, if we don’t learn from it, history is doomed to repeat itself, and the way the world is going today . . . Well, this book is particularly relevant.
The War Outside talks about an era of American history that is usually (purposefully) left untold. During WWII, civilian families from both Japan and Germany were taken to camps and left there throughout the duration of the war. They were regarded with suspicion, and some in the early stages of the war were given the option to go back to the countries they had emigrated from. In these cases, usually the children had been born in America and had little connection to Japan or Germany. The families who remained in America after the war after returned to find . . . nothing. That their homes had been seized or looted, that their belongings had been taken and sold off. If they hadn’t given anything to the neighbors for safekeeping–if those neighbors could be trusted–then these families were left stranded with only what they’d taken with them in the camps.
This book tells the story of two girls in one of the camps. One is German. One is Japanese. But, really, they’re both American. The book is told in a dual point of view so you can understand the full scope of what is happening. The racism. The hatred. The divisions that occur even between groups of people who are all being held in camps against their will. Through it all, Haruko and Margot form an unlikely friendship. As you come to understand why both have been brought there, and the difficult choices their families are made, you really come to care for these girls. But they’re good characters, in that they aren’t perfect. And their flaws make for some interesting pieces of the plot that will leave you wanting more.
The War Outside isn’t a very happy story, but it’s a good one, and it’s an important one. We need to see what it was like for these girls. We need to see where everything went wrong. The relationship between the two is hard and complex, and I think it will help readers to better understand, and empathize with, the situation. Everyone should read this book–everyone needs to know what happened, so it can never happen again.