46 pages 1 hour read

Cynthia Kadohata


Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2006

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


Weedflower, Cynthia Kadohata’s 2006 historical fiction young adult novel, tells the story of 12-year-old Japanese American Sumiko amid Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the US government’s ensuing involvement in World War II. Kadohata depicts the conditions of Japanese internment camps from Sumiko’s perspective, providing unique insight and education on the racism that Japanese Americans faced and the US government’s poor decisions.

This guide references the 2009 paperback reprint edition from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Plot Summary

The novel begins in 1941, a few days before the attack on Pearl Harbor that provokes the US to join World War II. Twelve-year-old Sumiko lives with her aunt, uncle, cousins, grandfather, and younger brother. Her parents died in a car accident when she was seven. She loves tending to the flowers on her family’s farm but feels lonely; as the only Japanese girl in her class, she doesn’t have any friends at school and is too busy helping on the farm to spend time with children in her neighborhood. As the novel begins, Sumiko feels that her loneliness may finally be at an end when her classmate invites her to a birthday party. When she arrives at the party, however, she isn’t allowed to stay because she’s Japanese. She returns home after several hours and pretends that she enjoyed the party to please her family but feels lonelier and more humiliated than ever.

The next day, Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and the US enters World War II. Sumiko’s family burns all their belongs that could link them with loyalty to Japan, and Sumiko’s grandfather, Jiichan, packs a bag in anticipation of being arrested since he is a first-generation Japanese immigrant. Government officials come to arrest Jiichan, and unexpectedly, they arrest Sumiko’s uncle as well. No explanation is provided nor charges issued against the men, but they’re taken to a prison camp in North Dakota for the duration of the war. Kadohata establishes the novel’s key conflict as the climate of fear and racism against the Japanese, even those who are naturalized US citizens. This anti-Japanese bias in the US worsens over the subsequent months.

Sumiko’s family learns that various communities of Japanese Americans throughout the US are being evacuated to internment camps, and soon the agricultural community in which they live is notified that they must evacuate too. Sumiko’s family sells their furniture and belongings at a fraction of their worth and leaves the farm behind. They’re transported via large trucks to a racetrack in San Carlos, California, where they’re assigned a barrack in which to sleep. The living conditions are cramped, and the food makes Sumiko and her brother Tak-Tak feel sick. Sumiko is afraid of the soldiers who patrol the camp, and she buries her special knife she used to disbud flowers because she doesn’t want to be caught with a weapon. Sumiko struggles with what she calls the “ultimate boredom”—the feeling that she’s losing her mind from boredom. She wants to stay strong for Tak-Tak but finds the days endless and purposeless.

Toward the end of May, Sumiko and her family are transferred to the Colorado River Relocation Center in Poston, Arizona, where they’re told that they’ll stay permanently. After Sumiko settles in, she makes a few friends for the first time in her life. These include Japanese Americans Mr. Moto and Sachi as well as a Native American boy near her age, Frank. As Frank and Sumiko become friends, Sumiko realizes that he’s her first true friend, and she even stands up to a group of Japanese American boys to protect him. For the first time in her life, Sumiko learns the challenges and rewards that friendship presents. In her free time, she tends to a garden in which she proudly grows weedflowers. The garden gives her an escape from the monotony of camp life and lets her maintain her passion for flowers and her dream to someday own a flower shop.

Sumiko learns from Frank that the camp is on Native American reservation land. Although the Native Americans originally opposed having the camp on their land, their opinion changes when they see the agricultural talents of the Japanese Americans in the camp—and when the US government provides funding for irrigation on the reservation. Frank’s older brother is interested in learning to farm, so Sumiko and Frank arrange a meeting between Sumiko’s cousin, Bull, and Frank’s brother, Joseph, to talk about farming.

Sumiko spends several months at the internment camp before the US begins to permit Japanese prisoners to leave to fill gaps in the work force. In addition, the US government issues a questionnaire that all Japanese American adults must complete. The questionnaire asks whether they’re loyal to the US and willing to serve in combat. People in the camp are frustrated with the questionnaire, which feels like a trick. Sumiko points out that the government’s decisions regarding Japanese Americans are illogical and ever-changing. She thinks that had the US government used a questionnaire from the beginning, it could have saved her family significant difficulty. Sumiko’s aunt accepts a job in a sewing factory in Illinois. After much debate and encouragement from Frank, Sumiko decides that she and Tak-Tak will accompany their aunt. Bull, Sumiko’s cousin, leaves with her other cousin, Ichiro, to fight in the war on a combat team composed entirely of Japanese Americans. Sumiko bids a bittersweet farewell to Frank before she departs the camp and heads to Illinois. Weedflower shows the resilience of Japanese Americans despite the suffering and racism they faced from the US government.