- The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith
Smith, Sherri L. The Blossom and the Firefly. Putnam, 2020 [320p] Trade ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-3790-0 $17.99 E-book ed. ISBN 978-1-5247-3791-7 $10.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 6-10
Fifteen-year-old Hana is a Nadeshiko girl in 1945 Japan, tasked with caring for the kamikaze pilots at the nearby airbase, doing their laundry, cleaning the barracks, and eventually waving goodbye as the Tokkō American fleet inching toward Okinawa in World War II. Taro is one of those pilots, and over the few days he is at the base, he and Hana bond over a shared love of music, despite knowing that their relationship has a clear end date. The day comes, and Taro flies off, but to his great shame, he survives the crash and returns home in dishonor, while Hana struggles with grief over his presumed death. Smith plays with timelines here to effectively maximize tension and emotion: readers watch Taro grow up from a baby to a teenaged soldier, but, in alternating chapters, they meet Hana at fifteen, already traumatized by a war that has taken her father, her school, and her sense of safety. Their short time together easily lends the story the sighs and swoons of a doomed romance, but their relationship is not so much star-crossed as it is a genuine depiction of two terrified kids finding a respite, however brief, from the hopelessness of war. Details of the Japanese involvement in the war, its preceding battles with China, and the culture's devotion to their emperor and his honor are carefully woven in, and Smith provides a glossary and bibliography. The final scene is a hopeful, tearful climax, and fans of Berry's Lovely War (BCCB 2/19) will find this happy ending especially satisfying.