Naomi Hirahara combines mystery and historical fiction in Clark and Division, ultimately giving readers a compelling story while simultaneously shedding light on a time in the United States that’s often glossed over.
Aki Ito didn’t ask to be born in the United States, but she’s glad that she was. No matter how proud she is to be an American, however, she is still Nisei, someone born to Japanese immigrants, or Issei. When Japan bombs Pearl Harbor, she and her family, along with thousands of other Japanese Americans, are thrust into concentration camps all over the U.S. The Ito family is sent to the Manzanar camp in California. Before long, Aki’s older sister, Rose, is set free, but forced to relocate across the country to Chicago. Rose intends to spend the next months preparing for her family to join her in the newly established Japanese-American neighborhood, but she will never see her family again, because on the eve of their arrival, she’s killed by a subway train.
Officials are ruling Rose’s death a suicide, but Aki knows better. She adored Rose, but it’s more than adoration that drives Aki to investigate further. Rose was beautiful, sophisticated, and optimistic. She loved her family more than anything else, and wasn’t depressed, so why on earth does it make sense that she would kill herself? That’s the question that Aki is determined to answer, all while getting acclimated to her new life in Chicago—her new life without Rose.
I think we can all agree that U.S. history classes teach us a lot, but they also skip over a lot. A part of our history that’s frequently missed is the concentration camps Japanese Americans were forced into after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Personally, I don’t really remember learning about them in my classes, and if I did, they were mentioned once and never again. Admittingly, I’m still not an expert on these camps, or this particular shameful part of our history, but reading Clark and Division gave me a glimpse into what life might have been like living in one. Only a short part of the story actually takes place before and during the camp, but in that short period, Aki’s story brought to life the fear and despair people felt as they were ripped from their homes and the lives they worked so hard to build. She forces readers to acknowledge the ugliness of the Japanese concentration camps, rather than the typical understated “internment” camps we are so used to hearing about and glossing over.
Aki continues to bring to life fear, but of a different variety—the fear of starting all over again—as she and her family are relocated across the country and soon discovering that her beloved sister was ripped away from her, too. Majority of the story focuses on Aki trying to find the truth of what happened to her sister, and the harshness of the camp takes a backseat, though it’s still prevalent in the words and actions of those around her. Soon, the mystery Hirahara set out to write takes the wheel, and it’s a very compelling mystery at that. What makes it so compelling is that Hirahara really takes time to build Aki’s character and background, adding more of a literary aspect that one might see in historical fiction, rather than a more traditional mystery. This combo of mystery and literary writing made it very difficult for me to put down, and if I had the time, I definitely could’ve finished it in one sitting.
Mystery lovers will want to add Naomi Hirahara’s Clark and Division to their library, just as much as historical fiction fans will, but, unfortunately, both will have to wait until August 3rd to do so.
Casey Larsen is an avid reader, but if you ask her what her favorite book is, you will likely get a different answer every time. She currently works part time in human resources and part time at BHB, all while pursuing a degree in English with a concentration in Literature. She hopes to one day work at a publishing house, helping future writers fulfill their dreams of becoming published authors. Between working and studying, she loves spending time with her friends, binging Netflix, and cuddling with her black lab puppy, Loki.