By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”
By Eleanor Coerr
Dell Publishing, 1977
I remember this book from my childhood, but I have never read it.
“Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes” is the story of Sadako Sasaki, an 11-year-old Japanese girl who was in Hiroshima when the atom bomb dropped on the city in 1945. It was not until 10 years later that the effect of the bomb begins to take its toll on Sadako’s body. She is diagnosed with leukemia as a result of the radiation from the blast.
To help her heal, Sadako begins folding paper cranes with the goal of completing 1,000 cranes. According to Japanese lore, if a sick person folds that many paper cranes, the gods will fulfill their wish and cure them.As I was reading, I couldn’t imagine experiencing what Sadako experienced. It isn’t easy to picture yourself surviving such a horrific event, only to find out 10 years later that you weren’t as lucky as you thought.
For a children’s book, the subject matter of “Sadako” is dark. However, this is one of the reasons why I think it’s important for youngsters to read it.
Before the leukemia takes over her body, Sadako is a lively and energetic girl. Going from being happy and free to being confined to a bed is beyond devastating for her and her family. Despite being terrified of dying, folding the paper cranes distracts Sadako from having these thoughts and gives her hope — something everybody could use every once in a while.
“Sadako” is based on a true story. I was inspired, as I think it takes a particularly special person, especially one as young as Sadako, to be facing death, but remains hopeful.
By Justina Chen Headley
Little Brown and Company, 2008
People who dislike books about the young and wealthy should think twice before passing on “Girl Overboard.”
I admit to being a member of this group and was a bit skeptical about this book when I picked it up. However, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised.
Syrah (yes, like the wine) Cheng is the 15-year-old daughter of billionaire Ethan Cheng. Materialistically, there isn’t a thing she’s lacking — right down to her designer snowboards. However, what Syrah really wants can’t be bought: Parents who spend time with her, half-siblings who like her, a best friend who won’t let his girlfriend get between them, a boyfriend who wants her for who she really is, and a knee that is completely healed from a snowboarding accident she was in as a result of a broken heart.
Unable to hit the mountains, where she is free from the pressure and constant judgment that comes with being an heiress, Syrah struggles to figure out her place in the world. When a long-kept family secret is revealed, she begins to question where she fits in and fears that such a place doesn’t exist.
It’s easy to relate to Syrah because the basis of her worries and insecurities are the same ones that most teens have. I remember having similar thoughts that Syrah went through when I was her age. I’m positive that current 15-year-old girls have had those same thoughts going through their minds as well.
“Girl Overboard” could have easily turned into ‘poor little rich girl’ story, but Headley portrays Syrah in a way that transcends that trap. Syrah is an admirable heroine who teenage girls (and boys) can look up to without making their parents cringe. She doesn’t act spoiled. She’s feisty and sticks to her convictions when others would give in.
“The Gangster We Are All Looking For”
By Le Thi Diem Thuy
Anchor Books, 2004
Moving to a new country is not easy.
You have to learn and adjust to new customs, meet new people, make new friends, and oftentimes, and oftentimes learn a new language.
This move can be even more difficult when it isn’t made by choice.
“The Gangster We Are All Looking For” tells the story of a family that finds itself in that particular situation. The story is told through the eyes of a girl who moves from Vietnam to San Diego in 1978. The girl, whose name stays anonymous, is 6 years old when she makes the journey across the Pacific Ocean with her father and four “uncles.”
The girl is separated from her mother for two years and once they are reunited, the once-broken family has difficulty becoming whole again. Neither the girl’s mother or father starts out with the job they desire.
They have violent arguments that result in household objects being thrown and holes being punched in the walls. There is also the memory of the girl’s brother who drowned before they left Vietnam.
The characters in “Gangster” are nowhere near perfect and it is unclear whether they are able to bring themselves back together as a unified family. That is what makes the story more believable. Life doesn’t always end happily and not everything wraps up nicely.
Things rarely happen according to plan, but we deal with them as they come and we do our best. And that’s exactly what the girl and her parents in “Gangster” do — they live. ♦
Samantha Pak can be reached at email@example.com.