Title: The Journal of Ben UchidaThe Journal of Ben Uchida
Author: Barry Denenberg
Pages: 157
Reading Level: 9-12
Star Rating: ★★★

A journal “written” during WWII.

The Story.

Sure, his parents are Japanese. But Ben Uchida has always thought of himself as an American – never had a reason to think otherwise, in fact. But now that Japanese aircraft has attacked Pearl Harbor, all Japanese-blooded Americans are being viewed with suspicion. First Ben’s father is taken away to be interviewed by the FBI, and now his entire family is being yanked from their home and sent to an interment camp built especially for those of Japanese descent.

When will Ben and his family be released? Are they really being sent to live at Mirror Lake, or does the government plan to do away with them?

Discussion.

Ben has an original tone as a narrator – he’s cheeky in a way that shows actual cleverness rather than just the typical angst and frustration associated with his age group. I still found his tone to be a little too sarcastic for my taste, but he exercises his criticism mainly against the unjust treatment afforded to his people by the American government. [Which criticism is wholly justified.]

Much like Journey to Topaz and Journey Home, The Journal of Ben Uchida explores that curious instance of tyranny practiced during WWII – the interning of all Japanese within our borders in shoddy prison camps. True, they were not systematically harmed while kept there, but their liberty was deprived from them and they were punished without due process of law. The amount of racial hostility displayed towards the Japanese (as exhibited in little doses in this book) really is shocking.

Ben is a bit of a scamp at times – most noticeably towards his “friend”, Charles, who is naive enough to fall for whatever tricks Ben gleefully plays on him.

Ben’s friend, Mike, and Ben’s sister, Naomi, appear to be interested in each other, but this quickly drops off after Mike becomes involved with a rough crowd. Mike also has a trouble relationship with his parents, a factor that contributes to his decline.

In the diary entry for October 5, 1942, Ben’s friend, Kenny, shows him a peep-hole into the room where the ballerina club will be changing into their costumes. Both boys are excited, but they never actually make it to the peephole in time to see the girls changing, although they do try again on a later occasion.

It is mentioned on page 21 that a Japanese man hanged himself out of despair. Also, Ben mentions twice that he found circumstances so depressing that he just as soon kill himself. [This is largely sarcasm.]

There are a few cultural references – Ben reads a Superman comic book, watches Hold That Ghost, discusses the chance of extra-terrestial life with his father, and assures a little boy that Santa Claus is real.

The word ‘d***’ (fully spelled) is used once.

Conclusion. Okay – I preferred When the Soldiers Were Gone, The Diary of Amber Scott, I Survived the Bombing of Pearl Harbor and The Attacks on Pearl Harbor as World War II resources.

 

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