Under the Broken Sky

Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. Oct. 2019. 304p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250159212.
Gr 5-7–A moving story of one Japanese family’s survival in occupied Manchuria during World War II. The small farm where 12-year-old Natsu lives with her father and her sister, Asa, is all she has ever known. But when her father is forced to join the Japanese army, everything begins to change. He makes Natsu promise three things: keep his backpack, stay together, and if anything happens, run! Before long, the Soviet army forces the women and children to flee the settlement. Walking for weeks, they finally arrive at the Chinese city of Harbin. They are crammed together in an old school building, where hunger, fear, and death prevail. When Natsu falls ill, she decides to save Asa by selling her to a Russian family. Incredibly, she regains her health and learns of a boat returning refugees to Japan. Yet Natsu holds fast to her promise: she will not leave without her sister. Nagai writes in verse with both a detached hesitancy, as if looking at the story from a distance, and a deep understanding of the sisters’ pain through rich imagery that poetry so often allows. It is a hard history to swallow, but it is made palatable through the characters’ tenacity and belief in an outcome greater than their own.
VERDICT Echoing the hardships and redemption of many novels about World War II, this well-timed story about a lesser-known group of refugees adds an important chapter to the narrative of human oppression and survival.

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