Today I get to take part in the book tour for Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford. I remember I first heard of this book last November when my local Barnes & Noble had a presentation from a Random House representative. She talked about current books mostly, but she also previewed some upcoming releases and I remember when she mentioned this one I immediately put it on my list. So you can only imagine how I excited I was to take part in this virtual book tour. I hope you’ll enjoy hearing more about the book.
“Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel. What had started as a crowd of curious onlookers eyeballing a television news crew had now swollen into a polite mob of shoppers, tourists, and a few punk-looking street kids, all wondering what the big deal was. In the middle of the crowd stood Henry, shopping bags hanging at his side. He felt as if he were waking from a long forgotten dream. A dream he’d once had as a little boy.”
Henry Lee has many memories of the Panama Hotel and seeing the belongings of the residents who once lived there now unearthed from the sealed up basement transport him to his childhood. They bring to mind his struggles with his father, the harassment from a school bully but most of all they remind him of a young girl who captured his heart.
At twelve years old, Henry’s task was to do well at the Ranier Elementary school where he’d earned a scholarship. In Henry’s mind, his father only cared about following the war in China and having Henry learn English. For Henry going to Ranier was not all it was cracked up to be. He was bullied by some of the kids and had to work in the cafeteria alongside the quiet but commanding Mrs. Beatty.
But one day, Keiko Okabe comes into his life. The young Japanese American girl is the bright spot in his world and soon the two become friends. Henry finally has someone to talk to and he’ll even take Keiko to listen to jazz music played by his friend Sheldon. Ultimately both will share their disbelief and fear at what is happening around them as the war with Japan escalates and Japanese American citizens are being looked at as the enemy no matter if they’ve never set foot in Japan or even speak the language, such as is the case for Keiko.
When the Japanese are sent off to interment camps Henry fears for Keiko but with letters and the help of Mrs. Beatty, Henry will find a way to stay in touch. Being in touch with Keiko though brings more problems for Henry as his father won’t stand for his son having a Japanese friend.
The story unfolds in flashbacks and we learn of the true friendship and love that grows between the two youngsters. There are other characters that also play an important part in Henry and Keiko’s life and despite this being Henry and Keiko’s story I feel like the author fleshed out the smaller stories as well. What I really liked was reading about the past and seeing how that shaped Henry’s future.
For me this was also a wake up call really to see not just about the internment of Japanese American citizens, which I had knew about, but how other people in the Asian community felt or went through. For example, Henry’s father makes him wear a button that reads “I am Chinese” so he won’t be confused with being Japanese and thus be seen as an enemy. It is sad that prejudice exists and worse that as long as you are seen as different then that is all that matters to some people.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I had one minor quibble though that I wasn’t sure whether to bring but to keep the review honest I have to say that I always thought Henry seemed older to me, especially in certain moments when he defies his parents I kept thinking that was more in line with a child who’s a bit older but again just a small quibble.
I hope you will put Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet on your radar. It’s such an engaging story. Find out more about the book at Jamie Ford’s website. And, stop by Melody’s great review of the book, Nik’s interview with Jamie Ford, and if you want a chance at having your own copy make sure you put your name in the hat in Wendy’s book giveaway.