Book Review

No Quiet Water

No Quiet Water

  • Author: Shirley Miller Kamada
  • Genre: MG Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: January 5, 2023
  • Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Thank you to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: racism, racist slurs, bullying

After the U.S. declares war on Japan in 1941, all persons of Japanese descent in the Western U.S. come under suspicion. Curfews are imposed, bank accounts frozen, and FBI agents search homes randomly.

Despite the fact that two generations of the Miyota family are American citizens, 10-year-old Fumio, his parents and sister Kimiko are transported under military escort from their farm on Bainbridge Island to the California desert Camp Manzanar. The Miyotas leave the care of their farm and dog Flyer, to their good friends and neighbors the Whitlocks.

Fumio and his family suffer unimaginable insults, witness prejudice and violent protests, are forced to live in squalor, and are provided only poor-quality, unfamiliar food which makes them ill. Later, they are transferred to Idaho’s Camp Minidoka, where Fumio learns what it means to endure and where he discovers a new world of possibility and belonging.

Lyrical, visual, and rendered with strict attention to historical accuracy, NO QUIET WATER shines a poignant light on current issues of racism and radical perspectives.

Since the American education system (unsurprisingly) glosses over the shameful history of the internment camps, I was intrigued when I received an email offering an ARC of this book. I wanted to learn more about this period of time, and what life was like for Americans of Japanese descent who were uprooted and forced to live in these camps. However, this book wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

I quickly realized that this was geared more towards the younger side of MG readers. It’s written in a very simple style, and there are many chapters told from the POV of Flyer, Fumio’s dog. This surprised me, and while I’m very partial to dogs, Flyer’s chapters didn’t exactly feel realistic.

We get to see life in Bainbridge Island from Fumio’s perspective, where he attends school, helps on his family’s farm, and spends time with his best friend and neighbor, Zachary. He’s a typical American kid, regardless of his Japanese descent. But once Pearl Harbor is bombed, they all come under suspicion. Fortunately, their neighbors are willing to hang onto some of their belongings that might cast doubt onto their American loyalty. When the order comes for the Miyota family to evacuate, their neighbors agree to care for their farm and Flyer.

There are instances of racism and racist slurs seen in the story, as well as unfair treatment of the people interned in the camps, especially during their transit to the camps. However, we don’t really get to see much about how poor the conditions really were in the camps. Yes, we are shown that the houses were shoddily thrown together, the latrines didn’t offer privacy, and the terrain wasn’t very hospitable, but Fumio and his family don’t really seem to struggle as much as I would have expected. He stays busy helping his father and learning new skills, and even learning Japanese drumming, while other boys learn martial arts. He practices gardening, while other people create rock gardens. Everyone seems to have a job, and Fumio’s family receives wages that they can use at a commissary, and can communicate with the outside world. 

It kind of felt like there was an opportunity to create an extremely powerful story, but instead it got bogged down in the day to day activities which became repetitive. Fumio wakes up and goes to the mess hall, helps his father, goes to drumming or performs another kind of activity, and then goes to sleep. I was disappointed in how this went, and how suddenly it ended, without the closure I was expecting. After reading all of this, I wondered what happened to Fumio and his family after they were released—whatever happened to their property? None of this is ever resolved, and I was ultimately left with a lot of questions.

This book would probably appeal to younger readers, although it would probably be a bit long and repetitive even for them. I did like learning more about Japanese culture, and how traditional outlooks did help them get through these difficult times, as well as how the community came together to help each other out for the most part. However, I would have appreciated if this book was clearly labeled as MG, since I probably would have skipped it if I knew that this was geared towards an age range that I don’t typically read. On that note, I do think that this is an era that needs to be more well known, and should be written about more widely.

Do you know of any books written about Japanese internment camps in the US?

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