Dust of Eden

Dust of Eden

by Mariko Nagai


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"We lived under a sky so blue in Idaho right near the towns of Hunt and Eden but we were not welcomed there." In early 1942, thirteen-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa and her Japanese-American family are sent from their home in Seattle to an internment camp in Idaho. What do you do when your home country treats you like an enemy? This memorable and powerful novel in verse, written by award-winning author Mariko Nagai, explores the nature of fear, the value of acceptance, and the beauty of life. As thought-provoking as it is uplifting, Dust of Eden is told with an honesty that is both heart-wrenching and inspirational.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

CCBC Choices 2015
One of 25 of the best new middle grade novels, The Christian Science Monitor
Best Older Fiction of 2014, Chicago Public Library
2016 Arnold Adoff New Voices Poetry Award, Honor Book

"This vividly wrought story of displacement, told from Mina's first-person perspective, begins as it did for so many Japanese-Americans: with the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor…An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl's experience of the Japanese-American internment."—Kirkus Reviews

"Nagai does a wonderful job examining what it means to Mina and her family members to be American while not being treated as true citizens."—School Library Journal

"This is an honest and thoughtful exploration of a complicated chapter in American history, and the book's strong narrative voice and solid imagery will help contemporary readers understand those complexities."—The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

"Nagai's writing is spare and rhythmic—it's real poetry."—The Horn Book Magazine

School Library Journal

Gr 4–8—Mina is a typical Japanese American girl living in Seattle until December 1941, when her life is changed forever by the bombing of Pearl Harbor. From this point on, everything changes for the worst. People are racist toward her and her family, her father is arrested and carted away without cause, and her family is told to pack up their belongings and report to an "assembly center" to be moved away "for their own safety." This novel in verse follows Mina's trials as she is ripped away from her friends and the life she knew, and forced to live in demeaning conditions throughout the duration of World War II. Nagai does a wonderful job examining what it means to Mina and her family members to be American while not being treated as true citizens. The book explores the obstacles they are faced with as they try to build a life worth living in the internment camps. While Mina and her brother Nick are well-developed, her parents and grandfather would have benefitted from a more in-depth treatment. The poetry is sometimes clunky, and readers who are not familiar with novels in verse might find it cumbersome. The letters Mina writes, both to her best friend in Seattle and to her brother, offer interesting insight, although it is sometimes frustrating that the correspondence is not shown in its entirety. This novel fills gaps in many collections where newer tales of the Japanese internment are lacking, especially for this age range.—Ellen Norton, White Oak Library District, Crest Hill, IL

Kirkus Reviews

Crystal-clear prose poems paint a heart-rending picture of 13-year-old Mina Masako Tagawa's journey from Seattle to a Japanese-American internment camp during World War II. This vividly wrought story of displacement, told from Mina's first-person perspective, begins as it did for so many Japanese-Americans: with the bombs dropping on Pearl Harbor. The backlash of her Seattle community is instantaneous ("Jap, Jap, Jap, the word bounces / around the walls of the hall"), and Mina chronicles its effects on her family with a heavy heart. "I am an American, I scream / in my head, but my mouth is stuffed / with rocks; my body is a stone, like the statue / of a little Buddha Grandpa prays to." When Roosevelt decrees that West Coast Japanese-Americans are to be imprisoned in inland camps, the Tagawas board up their house, leaving the cat, Grandpa's roses and Mina's best friend behind. Following the Tagawas from Washington's Puyallup Assembly Center to Idaho's Minidoka Relocation Center (near the titular town of Eden), the narrative continues in poems and letters. In them, injustices such as endless camp lines sit alongside even larger ones, such as the government's asking interned young men, including Mina's brother, to fight for America. An engaging novel-in-poems that imagines one earnest, impassioned teenage girl's experience of the Japanese-American internment. (historical note) (Verse/historical fiction. 11-14)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807517383
Publisher: Whitman, Albert & Company
Publication date: 10/01/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 144
Sales rank: 255,213
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.50(d)
Lexile: 960L (what's this?)
Age Range: 9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt


    Seattle, Washington

    October 1941

    The house is surrounded by roses
    The living room is a mixture of East
    Grandpa is a rose breeder.
    Mother sits in the kitchen, always singing.
    My brother Nick's room next to mine is filled
    He speaks to us in Japanese, my parents speak
    December 1941

    I was singing with the Sunday school
    all our mouths opening and closing as one
    We were singing "Silent Night, Holy
    their lowest key, the door burst
    The next note lay waiting
    the O shape, when a man yelled, the Japs bombed
    The next words got lost. Oh, oh, oh,
    coming out of my mouth,
    And the world started again
    December 1941

    Jap, Jap, Jap, the word bounces
    Jamie, my best friend, yells out, "Shut your
    bouncing like a ball in my head.
    Arts class, the entire class gets quiet.
    like she's been talking about me,
    She clears her voice; she calls
    right after Marcus Springfield.
    And instead of calling out Joshua
    about what happened yesterday.
    at my hands, then at the swirling
    yellowish against the dark brown
    right near it. Jap-nese, Mrs. Smith
    Harbor. Jap-nese have broken
    Even the newspaper that Father works for screams in
    I feel everyone's eyes on me. I hear
    Jap Mina. I'm not
    I am an American, I scream
    with rocks; my body is a stone, like the statue
    every morning and every night. My body is heavy.
    December 1941

    We are not Americans, the eyes tell us.
    We are the enemy aliens, the Japs,
    Pearl Harbor, killing so many soldiers
    morning in Hawaii, who were waking
    Death to Japs, they say. The voice
    a pause between Jap
    Mother walks down Main Street with her head
    men spit at her and women hiss
    sesuji o nobashina-sai.
    good girl), Mother says as she pulls
    one by one, stretching her fingers
    Masa-chan, tebukuro
    sahou ni kibishii kara.
    are strict with manners), Mother says
    We pass by the stores that sell
    Patriotic Americans, says a sign on the window.
    flakes. If I could, I would keep
    and tear off Masako Tagawa like the
    out that Nick Freeman liked Alice
    blond that changes into lighter
    just like Jamie's. If I could change
    I could change my life: I would be an American.
    December 1941

    We're best friends, no matter what, Jamie
    tree together. We're best friends until
    She hands me a small packet wrapped
    Open it, open it, she urges. Mr. Gilmore's humming
    the backyard, and Mrs. Gilmore's baking
    We sit under a big Christmas tree lit by small twinkling
    A package the size of my palm, so light like a butterfly;
    I undo the ribbon gingerly, then unfold the red
    a jagged half of a heart. She pulls her sweater
    And whenever we are together, we have a whole heart.

    December 1941

    When I come home, the house is quiet.
    Mother is not home, where she always is,
    her hands and a glass of milk for me.
    out, rice scattered all over the kitchen
    with cloth strewn all over the floor
    left town. A note, I will be back soon,
    pinned to the door like a dead butterfly.
    too late for a glass of milk and cup of tea,
    looking like they are carrying the night
    from the weight they drag through
    they said they are from the government;
    answer some questions,
Mother says quietly
    throwing her weight down. When is he coming home?
    to Grandpa, pressing his body so close that his tail
    skinny body. I'm not sure, honey, I'm just
    Grandpa takes his owl-like glasses off slowly,
    of his hand like he was pressing down the dirt
    on his rocking chair. Mother leans back, too.
    through my head, forgetting about milk,
    history homework, thinking only about Father
    January 1942

    This year, there wasn't a
    January 1942

    Father looks small
    January 1942

    Every time I walk down the hall
    February 1942

    Dear Father, I hope

Excerpted from "Dust of Eden"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Mariko Nagai.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
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