WARNING: Reading this article may give away things in the story ranging from unimportant to plot turners.
The Journal of Ben Uchida Citizen 13559 Mirror Lake Internment Camp by Barry Denenberg
Type: Children’s Series, Diary, Historical Fiction
Basic Plot: Ben Uchida and his family are put into an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Plot: 3/5 Average: The story was interesting, though a little predictable in some ways. It was a little unsatisfying in some ways, as it lacked some of the details it could have had, and there were no real dynamic content. Characters were also lacking in dynamics.
Writing Style and Setup: 2½/5 Below Average: The style was more childish and simple than some other styles of Dear America diaries. It was also more cynical and critical in spirit.
Moral: 1/5 Bad Role Models: Ben Uchida and his friends are all terrible role models. Ben is cynical, angry-spirited, and childish. He looks at adults as morons who don’t ever mean what they say, and he pessimistically looks at everything in his life. I admit that sarcasm and cynicism can be funny to watch when done right and appropriately, but this was just done in an annoying, selfish manner, with little humor. The Bible also has a lot in Proverbs to say about those that are scornful in spirit. On another note, his friends tend to be immoral and foolish, often convincing him to do immoral and foolish things.
Overall: 2/5 Below Average: I was more than a little disappointed with this Dear America book. While the information was accurate and the plot was interesting, the main character is annoying, and the Japanese spirit is lacking. This is perhaps to replace the Japanese spirit with a more American spirit that some of the second and third generation Japanese no doubt had, but I think the characters’ attitudes were to too liberal to be something I could believe the average twelve year old in World War II America would have.
Sexual and Inappropriate Content: 2/5 An Inappropriate Attempt: Ben’s friend convinces him to spy on some girls when he believes they will be changing. The girls turn out to have changed before they came.
Violence: 2/5 Some Violence: Violence, death, and suicide are used a lot in exaggerations and sometimes in descriptions. The bombing of Pearl Harbor is mentioned. Characters wonder and believe several times that the Japanese will be killed systematically by the government. While angry, a woman purposely destroys all of her dishes. It is mentioned that a man hangs himself. Some boys play a knife throwing game, and a knife gets in a boys ankle. Someone throws a brick through a window. A boy elbows a kid, and he gets revenge by charging him in football. A woman gets hit in the head with a baseball. A boy attacks another boy, and though nothing to descriptive happens, it does mention the damage that was done. It is mentioned that a movie has a father that hits his son. It is mentioned that a man is shot to death by some soldiers. Characters fall, though rarely, if ever, get seriously hurt. A man is said to have threatened violence, but whether he truly did or not is never said. Several characters deaths are mentioned in the epilogue from bombing, gunshot, and unnamed causes.
Swearing and Using the Lord’s Name in Vain: 2/5 Light Swearing and Racial Terms: “Damn” is misused once. The term “Jap” is used at least ten times.
Emotional, Intense, and Disturbing Content: 2/5 Some Emotional and Disturbing Content: World War I, the Alamo, and the Civil are briefly mentioned and World War II is the time of the diary. There is mention of characters dying and getting injured in the war. Both white and Japanese people wish to hurt and kill each other throughout the book, at least twice wanting or threatening to burn down the other ones homes. One boy’s house is mentioned to have most likely been purposely burned. It is mentioned that a roof caught on fire from a sparkler. Characters cry and tear up a few times, usually from the way the children are being raised in the internment camps, and though it is not overly depressing, it is usually at least sad to read. A boy screams once when he gets hurt. A man is rumored to have died from soldiers, and it is rumored that the Japanese men are beaten. A boy is hit so hard in a football game that his a boy wonders if he killed him, and the event is described a little descriptively, though not too morbidly. Military men swarm a crowd when the crowd becomes restless, though no one is hurt. A boy makes a joke about tanks while he is being searched for weapons. Two characters in a movie are mentioned to have died. Soldiers point guns at people and guard from towers and streets. Rumors of riots are briefly mentioned a couple of times, as well as that tear gas killed the rioters. A man is greatly traumatized from being interrogated and held by the Americans and, though not completely mentally destroyed, he is obviously and greatly changed from it. Japanese possibly torturing Americans is briefly mentioned. Several characters deaths are mentioned in the epilogue from bombing, gunshot, and unnamed causes. Characters are briefly mentioned to sometimes faint. Characters hope they don’t get hurt. Characters mention feeling light pain from different circumstances. Bleeding is mentioned at least twice, and characters have or get bruises, cuts, scars, scratches, and swollen eyes. A boy is possibly blinded after getting attacked by another boy. Characters are mentioned to be carried on stretchers. A man is mentioned to have gotten a concussion. The historical facts mention the murder and lynching of Chinese immigrants, as well as military duty done by Japanese-American soldiers in World War II, as well as at least one soldier’s death. The author is mentioned to have written many books about war and war heroes.
Religious Issues: 1/5 Brief Mention A man is described as a boy’s “idol.” In the historical facts, a man is mentioned to be the son of a Buddhist monk.
Magic: ½/5 Slight Mention: “Magic” is used for descriptive purposes. A movie with “Ghost” in the title is mentioned.
Others: Characters smoke, illegally gamble, and are strongly hinted to drink, and sake (rice wine) is drunk by adults and children once. A man is said to have been drunk, but whether truly was or not is never said. Girls practice for a dance, and children perform a dance. A man in a movie is mentioned to have had more than one wife over his life. A man tells his son that there may be people on other planets. Santa Claus is briefly mentioned. Women start to wear only pants because of the sand. “Gamble” is used for descriptive purposes. “Ballet and interpretive dance” are mentioned.
Overall: Morally, the worst thing is probably the boys attempting to spy on changing girls. Other than this, morally there is not really anything wrong with it concerning content, but the main moral and attitude of the story causes me to not really recommend it.