Book Review: Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield

garden of Garden of Stones by Sophie Littlefield

Paperback

Review copy provided by publisher/ DMCPR Media

Harlequin Mira, January 2013

 Synopsis- In the dark days of war, a mother makes the ultimate sacrifice Lucy Takeda is just fourteen years old, living in Los Angeles, when the bombs rain down on Pearl Harbor. Within weeks, she and her mother, Miyako, are ripped from their home, rounded up-along with thousands of other innocent Japanese-Americans-and taken to the Manzanar prison camp.

Buffeted by blistering heat and choking dust, Lucy and Miyako must endure the harsh living conditions of the camp. Corruption and abuse creep into every corner of Manzanar, eventually ensnaring beautiful, vulnerable Miyako. Ruined and unwilling to surrender her daughter to the same fate, Miyako soon breaks. Her final act of desperation will stay with Lucy forever…and spur her to sins of her own.

Bestselling author Sophie Littlefield weaves a powerful tale of stolen innocence and survival that echoes through generations, reverberating between mothers and daughters. It is a moving chronicle of injustice, triumph and the unspeakable acts we commit in the name of love.

 Review- Garden of Stones brings a fresh perspective on World War II from the viewpoint of Americans of Japanese heritage that resided in the U.S and were taken to the Manzanar prison camp. Prior to reading this book I had no knowledge of this aspect of the war; it sadly never crossed my mind that Japanese- Americans would be treated so harshly by their fellow citizens. A bulk of the movies and books exploring this period often focus on the experience of American soldiers.

In Garden of Stones, fourteen year old Lucy Takeda discovers very quickly how easily her fellow classmates have turned against her on the onset of the war. Despite her American citizenship, fluent English and lack of knowledge of the Japanese language and customs, because of her racially different appearance she is segregated from her peers by harsh remarks and bullying. She returns home from school one day to discover her father is dead and only a few weeks later she is taken to the Manzanar prison camp with her mother, Miyako.

A marked decline in the living standards and living in poverty, Lucy learns that the only person she can count on is her mother. Lucy manages to find herself a job within the camp as a postal deliverer and befriends a young man named Jessie who is also a prisoner. Despite the limitations of their environment and lack of privacy, Lucy and Jessie find enjoyment in each other’s company and fall in love. Her mother’s mood changes and obvious despair, forces Lucy to find solace outside her dwelling and Jessie becomes an important person in her life.

In her attempts to protect Lucy, Miyako is lured into an association with the Americans guarding the camp. She is the victim of sexual, physical and psychological mistreatment by one of the guards in particular. The power imbalance in the camp is obvious and Miyako’s physical health and mood quickly decline. Miyako’s experiences are only shared through the viewpoint of Lucy. I thought this was really well done by the author who adeptly showed Miyako’s pain through the childlike, innocent observations of Lucy.

When Miyako’s physical health takes a plunge, it is Lucy who captures her abuser’s attention. Miyako, desperate to protect her daughter from the terrors of the prison camp underground takes drastic measures that changes Lucy’s life forever. At just sixteen, Lucy is orphaned and sent away to a lodge where she is employed as a maid. She forms an unlikely attachment to a former American soldier who experienced a back injury which restricts him to a wheelchair for mobility.

The novel examines the viewpoint of Lucy as an adolescent in the 1940’s and intermittently the viewpoint of her daughter Patty in the 1970’s. In modern day, Patty seeks to uncover her mother’s past and understand how she attained the scars she owns both physically and psychologically. A murder investigation into one of the guards is the trigger for Patty’s interest as she attempts to clear her mother’s name as a suspect.

Garden of Stones is an enthralling read, intensified by the unusual Japanese viewpoint of wartime and the story that unravels pertaining to Lucy’s life in two time periods. It was a little while before I warmed to Lucy, perhaps because of her naivety, because I was drawn to the experience of her mother Miyako. Lucy’s observations provided just enough for the reader to speculate on what was happening in the adult realm and the reality of their situation. As Lucy’s understanding of the abuse occurring in the camp and her close encounters of becoming a victim herself, her viewpoint matured markedly. I really empathised with Lucy’s later struggles as an orphan. The loss of her mother, her first love Jessie and then later the American soldier. My sadness for her was paramount, the effects of the war were longstanding and Lucy only had snippets of experiencing true happiness. I really liked how Patty’s understanding of her mother’s experience evolved throughout the story, initially wrapped up in her wedding plans she grows to respect her mother and see her in a new light.

The underlying mystery and flashes of the present day provide an undertone of suspense which kept me turning the pages until its resolution. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Garden of Stones and I’d really recommend it to fans of contemporary and modern history who’d like a different spin on the events of the past.

Overall Rating

4/5

“I loved this book!”

Garden of Stones can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers.

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6 comments

  1. Fantastic review. I’m glad you have read and reviewed this book because I almost pick it up every time I see it in the shops, but think hang on, Lauren is going to review it, so I’ll wait. Now I can grab it, I really enjoy histroicals like this, where they come from 2 different era’s. It reminds me of The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. Thanks for another fantastic review, I will be sure to grab it next time.

    Katie @ Turner’s Antics

    Like

    • lol I’m flattered Katie! I hope you enjoy this one as much as I did 🙂 Actually, this book did have a bit of a Morton feel to it- it did remind of the way The Secret Keeper was structured with the modern day mystery and the flashes into the past.

      Like

  2. This sounds really sad, I find WWII books to be upsetting most of the time. Although you are definitely right when you say I haven’t heard much about Americans with Japanese heritage being persecuted. That’s just terrible!

    I’ll definitely think about giving this one a read. Great review! 🙂

    Like

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