104 pages 3 hours read

Alan Gratz


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2018

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Symbols & Motifs

Destroyed School Buildings

In the opening sentence of Chapter 1, Hideki’s school is abruptly destroyed: As the boys are inducted into the Blood and Iron Student Corps, “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” (3). This symbolically signals the end of the boys’ childhoods. Instead of continuing a normal coming-of-age path, as they would have done in peacetime, the imminent invasion of Okinawa forces the children to become soldiers, expected to kill as many US troops as possible before killing themselves. The formidable Lieutenant Colonel Sano tells the boys that, “each of you must be ready to die a glorious death in the name of the Emperor” (7). He urges them to “fight like demons to protect your homeland” (7).

Similarly, Kimiko’s high school is also partially destroyed by an American shell. Hideki is shocked by the sight of dead child bodies: “Some of them had been thrown across the desk by the blast. Others were slumped over their desks. The bomb had hit while the students were in class” (102). A sign on the wall instructs all fifth-year girls to report to the army hospital in Ichinichibashi.