“This Light Between Us” by Andrew Fukuda manages to be many things: a fabulous historical fiction novel, a story of loyalty and love, and what would seem almost impossible to create authentically — a romance between two people who have never met.
Her name was Charlie, and because his teacher thought Charlie was a boy, Alex was assigned to be a pen pal with a girl. In spite of a rough beginning, Alex and Charlie continue to write each other long after the year is over. Through their letters, they become good friends.
Charlie writes of living in Paris, France, and she tells Alex, who lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington, of the beauty of the city. He tells her about his life and his dreams to be a cartoonist, but he never tells her he is Japanese American. He’s afraid that she won’t think he’s “American” enough, like many Americans who taunt them for their different looks must think.
With the war on the horizon, Charlie writes that her father refuses to leave Paris, even though the Jews are being more and more restricted and treated like second class citizens. Then when Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Alex, his family and other Japanese Americans are forced into internment camps, their love of America turns into bitterness.
We learn about the horror of the internment camps: no protection from the blistering cold and searing heat, flimsy huts for living, communal toilets with no privacy for men or women. Fukuda has done a great deal of research to make this piece of historical fiction based on what really happened. And underlying the horror of the setting is the beauty of the friendship between the two youngsters/teenagers as they actually seem to be falling in love through the power of their letters.
It’s a hard book to put down, as once we are invested in Charlie and Alex’s future, we want to know what it holds. Yet at the same time, we fear for these two people who have the misfortune to be born in a time and in countries where there seems to be nothing but heartache and danger for them.
Fukuda tells their story thoughtfully and movingly. He includes just the right amount of detail, dialogue, and historical facts. We learn a lot about Alex through his story, and while we learn less about Charlie, only what we glean from her letters, their connection is obvious and lovely. This is a perfect choice for any historical fiction buff, but also for those who enjoy action, books with characters who fight to overcome obstacles, and stories about relationships.
Please note: This review is based on the advance copy provided by Tor Teen, the publisher, for review purposes.