104 pages 3 hours read

Alan Gratz


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Important Quotes

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“An American bomb landed a hundred meters away—Kra-KOOM!—and the school building exploded. Hideki Kaneshiro ducked and screamed with all the other boys as they were showered with rocks and splinters. Hideki couldn’t believe it—one minute his school was there, the next it was gone. Worse, the bombs meant that the American battleships had found them.”

(Chapter 1, Page 3)

Alan Gratz’s stylistic choice to begin with an immediately climactic scene, rather than a period of rising tension, conveys the suddenness and terror of war. Furthermore, the destruction of Hideki’s school is symbolic; his childhood is abruptly over. He will be expected to behave as a soldier and kill enemy soldiers before dying by suicide, even though he is only 13.

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“‘Don’t move! Nobody is to move!’ Hideki froze. Every atom of his being told him to RUN. To find a cave somewhere to hide.”

(Chapter 1, Page 3)

Hideki, a child, yearns to run and hide from the terrifying invading forces, which will undoubtedly bring death and destruction. Instead, the Okinawan boys are conscripted, armed with poor weaponry, and ordered to stand, fight, and die. Sano’s directive is the novel’s first clue that Japanese officers do not live up to their ideals of honor; instead, they use Okinawan children as child soldiers and human shields. Gratz problematizes the Imperial Japanese Army’s policy of mass suicide for the Okinawan people.

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“‘One grenade is for the American monsters coming to kill your family,’ Sano told them, and Hideki looked up. Sano’s gaze swept down the row of boys until it stopped on Hideki, like he was talking to him alone. ‘Then, after you have killed as many Americans as you can,’ Sano added, ‘you are to use the other grenade to kill yourself.’”

(Chapter 1, Page 9)

Sano’s description of “American monsters” alludes to the IJA’s historical campaign of propaganda depicting US soldiers as violent and untrustworthy; this made Okinawan civilians reluctant to surrender, increasing civilian deaths by crossfire, starvation, and suicide. Furthermore, Sano’s instructions allude to the Japanese value of honorable self-sacrifice—giving one’s life for country and emperor, like kamikaze pilots did, was celebrated as noble.