Middle grade fiction has a tendency to be more powerful and honest than young adult or even adult fiction, and the stories you find within the middle grade level can be stories that stay with you throughout your lifetime. This is how I felt about The Last Cherry Blossom – it’s a powerful, heartbreaking novel that tells of one girl’s story before and after the Hiroshima bombing. The interesting (and even further heartbreaking) thing about this book is the fact that it is based on true events – not just the bombing, but the girl in the novel and the things that she had lived through even beforehand. It is the recollection and experiences of the author’s mother, which makes the book even more powerful, because the characters that lie within the pages are not fictional characters. They’ve lived their lives and told stories and experienced things that no one should have to experience.
Yuriko is a young girl who lives with her father, with whom she has a close relationship with. They live together in Hiroshima, with Yuriko’s aunt and her little cousin, who annoys her to no end, but she still loves him. While her aunt isn’t her best friend (or even close to it), she finds herself still happy to be a part of the family. When Yuriko’s aunt begins talking about getting married, she believes that the home will be a bit crowded…and isn’t too happy when her father announces his plans to marry the woman he has been dating, either. While Yuriko is a bit bitter about the news at first, the events happening in Hiroshima and around the world take precedence over her worrying about trivial things, and the light of how bad things have gotten has shed itself over the town in which Yuriko and her family reside.
“He squeezed back and said, ‘But this is how live is, Yuriko-chan. In our lives we must experience both beginnings as well as endings. It is like the season changing after the last cherry blossom falls.'”
The Last Cherry Blossom has so much raw emotion within its pages that it is impossible to sum up in a simple review. The first thought I had upon finishing this book was “This is for MIDDLE GRADE readers?” Most middle grade books that I read have very deep storylines, but go about telling the story in a much more casual way. However, The Last Cherry Blossom is one of those books that doesn’t sugarcoat what is going on – it tells the story with all of its blunt honesty, those emotions spilling over the pages. The Last Cherry Blossom made me smile, it made me cry, and it taught me a lot about what living in that time period and location was like.
“‘Would you please sew on a stitch for my husband?’ she asked.
‘Yes, of course.’ I bowed and sewed an uneven red stitch on her thousand-stitch belt. These belts were given to a person’s loved one before they left to fight for the Emperor. The belt encouraged the soldier, because he would know that one thousand women had faith in him to lead Japan to victory.”
There are so many interesting aspects and tidbits of information in this book that make it impossible to put down. I’m not a history buff, and I don’t pretend to be. I know basics about quite a few things – the stuff they teach you in school. But The Last Cherry Blossom goes where those history books can’t – it lends a personalized story to events that happened, and will make you look at things a lot differently. I have learned so much since I picked up this book, and it’s haunting story and message have stuck with me even still, over two months since I’ve finished reading the novel. It has become one of the most treasured novels on my shelf, and I hope it finds its way into the hands of children across the world.
This book is like a history lesson about a dark period, yet told in a hopeful light that you want to share with everyone you meet. This is the perfect book to encourage young readers to learn a little about a historical event that changed the world. The back contains a VERY helpful glossary, and the terms used in the book are clearly defined for younger readers and adults alike.
This is the kind of book that I want to share with my daughters when they are older. It’s the kind of book that I believe should be mandatory reading in middle schools to accompany any units or lesson plans that discuss the bombing of Hiroshima. It adds an emotional and personal spin on the events, and is the perfect explanation of how violence can change the world of the people that are affected.