Following the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, this is a new, very personal story to join Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.
Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and since the Japanese newspapers don’t report lost battles, the Japanese people are not entirely certain of where Japan stands. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bombs hit Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.
This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.
This debut novel, set in Hiroshima during WWII and inspired by Burkinshaw's mother's childhood, sets the stage for tragedy. Seventh-grader Yuriko lives with her widowed newspaper magnate Papa, her Aunt Kimiko, and her annoying five-year-old cousin, Genji. Burkinshaw uses newspaper headlines, radio messages, and official propaganda to introduce each chapter, placing events in historical context and sometimes offering ironic contrasts between the reality of war and the official party line. War colors all aspects of the lives of Yuriko and her classmates as they practice wielding bamboo spears in gym class, fighter planes fly overhead, and Yuriko's best friend hides a contraband jazz record after Western products are banned. Just as Yuriko's Papa takes a new wife and her aunt remarries, she learns a series of family secrets. In some cases the incorporation of historical and cultural information into Yuriko's narration can feel artificial ("I'm not sure why Japan annexed Korea"), but the eventual bombing of Hiroshima proves nightmarishly horrifying, and readers will readily empathize with Yuriko's losses and will to survive. Ages 11 13.