Gaijin: American Prisoner of War
Matt Faulkner turned the story of his great-aunt and her daughter’s time in a Japanese internment camp in 1942 into Gaijin: American Prisoner of War, a fictionalized tale of a teen boy’s experiences during World War II.
Koji is thirteen at the time of Pearl Harbor, and his adolescence is complicated by the war. His Japanese father is missing, and neighbors, shocked by recent events, react with bigotry and racism. Although his mother is Caucasian, that makes things worse, since he doesn’t fit in with the Japanese kids in the prison camp, either. They bully him, forming their own gang and lashing out as a way of coping with the horrible circumstances they’re in.
The art is illustrative, almost painterly, which will likely help this book make it into educational outlets, since it looks more important than the usual comic books. The lettering is too large and heavy, as though the creator, a children’s book artist, wasn’t quite familiar with the comic format yet. The storytelling at times becomes too didactic, with characters speaking in exposition; the plot and characters are second to the historical explanation. The ending comes abruptly and the last few pages feel tacked-on, just to give a positive ending. A couple of text pages by Faulkner, explaining what really happened to his family, are more realistic but not so happy.
It’s a shameful time in American history, when citizens were locked up, their possessions stolen, because they happened to be Japanese, part Japanese, or married to one. I’m glad the story is being told in a way that might reach younger readers, although I hope they approach it in a setting that provides more context for the events than is provided here. (The publisher provided a review copy.)