- Sylvia & Aki
Set in the 1940s, this autobiographical novel follows the stories of two girls from very different backgrounds who each find themselves subject to racism. Aki Munemitsu’s world turns upside-down following the 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor when her family receives a directive to leave California and report to an internment camp, where they will ultimately stay for more than two years. Sylvia Mendez’s family is renting the Munemitsus’ farm in their absence, and Sylvia’s parents are thrilled that they live in the vicinity of the well-reputed Westminster School. When they go to register their daughter, however, they are denied enrollment and directed to the “Mexican school.” The two girls finally meet when Sylvia accompanies her father on a trip to pay rent to Aki’s father, and thus begins a correspondence between the two. The protagonists alternate narration, with Sylvia’s story the more intriguing of the two, particularly in her father’s successful lawsuit against the school district leading the way for desegregation efforts across the nation. Much of the narration, however, is purposive, with factual material crammed into pedantic dialogue between the girls and their parents (e.g., “Do you know what an internment camp is?” Sylvia’s father asks her). The juxtaposition of two different cultures suffering from two different manifestations of racism stands out here, however, and there is plenty of opportunity for discussion about the girls’ experiences in this time of great social upheaval. An afterword, bibliography, and list of further reading are included.