Mariko Nagai presents a novel in verse about the internment of Japanese Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
In Dust of Eden, thirteen-year-old Mina Tagawa shares secrets with her best friend Jamie, and lives with her family in Seattle. Her grandfather speaks only Japanese, while her parents speak English to Mina and her brother Nick. When the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, their family experiences discrimination from classmates and those around them.
Finally, they are forced to move to an internment camp where they will spend the next three years. Jamie gives Mina half of a heart necklace to symbolize the friendship broken by the circumstances. It also symbolizes how her family is broken; they are never the same.
Dust of Eden has a sprinkling of swearing in the voice of the older brother (specifically the d-word). While it is in keeping with his character in the story, readers might want to be aware of this. It is also used in the opening anonymous poem that serves as an acknowledgement to the book.
Overall, Dust of Eden is an interesting book on a little-known moment in American history. With its novel in verse format, the bleakness and sadness of this event is evident, though it may be hard for its target audience to appreciate.
There are letters between Jamie and Mina, between Mina and Nick (after he enlists and goes to fight in the war), as well as poems that express the way her family feels as American citizens who are treated as enemies. Nick writes a moving letter when he participates in the liberation of Dachau, a concentration camp in Europe.
Nagai writes the story of a little-known moment in American history. By writing the story in verse, school essays, and letters, Dust of Eden conveys the story without emotion, allowing the tone of the historical moment to come through.
There is use of mild swear language (specifically, the word “d_mn”) in the voice of the older brother, in a manner consistent with his character in the story. The word is also used in a display of strong feeling in the opening poem by an “Unknown poet from Minidoka Concentration Camp.”
Overall, Dust of Eden is an interesting book on a less well-known part of American history. With a novel in verse format, the bleakness and sadness of this Japanese-American experience is evident, though the target audience might have difficulty in relating to the format.
Recommended for middle school collections in public and school libraries.
Carol R. Gehringer
—reprinted with permission, Christian Library Journal, 2015.