A fascinating speculative historical fiction debut set in 1950s California—perfect for fans of When You Reach Me.
Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin back to life from blood on his dog tags, Ella Mae is skeptical—until he steps out of a bio-pod right before her eyes.
But the boy is not her cousin—he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and despised. When her aunt refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae and her Mama take him home instead. Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches Takuma English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when his memories start to resurface, Ella Mae learns some shocking truths about her own family and more importantly, what it means to love.
In a moving examination of racism in post-WWII California, a scientist promising to resurrect an American solider instead conjures a Japanese clone. Shunned by his creator and the desperate woman who thought she was getting back her son, Takuma Sato is taken in by 12-year-old Ella Mae Higbee and her mother, who recognize the man's innocence. As Takuma's self-proclaimed best friend, Ella Mae is a scrapper in the tradition of Harper Lee's Scout, a tomboy unafraid of using her fists on a bully with an equally fierce compassion that looks beyond a man's skin. Debut author Van Dolzer's attentions are less on the story's science fiction aspect than on the racial tensions at play, dividing family and pitting God against science, with the devout Mrs. Higbee standing up against religious leaders who turn Takuma away for his unnatural genesis. In revealing how Takuma's DNA got mixed up with that of Ella Mae's cousin, Van Dolzer creates a thoughtful study in forgiveness and hope blossoming in a climate of ignorance and fear. Ages 10 up.