Book Review of The War Outside

Book review: The War Outside

Author: Monica Hesse

Publisher Little, Brown 2018

Page count: 336

I have written an unpublished middle grade about a Japanese internment camp and read at least 6 middle grade or young adult novels in similar settings. The War Outside is the newest, published in 2018.  This book is the second young adult historical novel about the internment I’ve read, and the first that is set in a camp at Crystal City, Texas, for Germans as well as the Japanese. I didn’t know such a camp existed. It turned out that German prisoners came to build the camp and stayed on afterwards.

Hesse recounts the unusual friendship between Haruko and Margot who go to the same camp  school. It is a friendship that is secret at first and frowned on by both communities. Despite suspicions and reservation about each other, the friendship offers solace to each’s fears, about Haruko’s concerns of her brother in war and Margot’s realization her father is influenced by Nazis. Hesse’s characterization of the teenagers are heart felt and nuanced. The book keeps me reading. Her research is deep and detailed. I find the story believable except the ending, which is a little disappointing. The friendship is irreparably destroyed when Haruko thinks Margot has betrayed her and Margot knows what she did is to save Haruko’s family. It’s the way Hesse sets up and resolves the crisis that is not entirely believable . Overall, this book contributes to the knowledge of this shameful period in American history for middle graders and young adults.

I don’t know whether the author has approval rights of the cover.  All the covers of the previous books I’ve read reflect the setting of the camp. Except for the barbed wires and watch towers in the distance, one would not know what this book is about. Two stylishly dressed young women, one in a vibrant red, the other wheeling a bicycle are in the forefront. The Asian girl seems to be looking at the reader, as if she were in a fashion photo shoot. I do wish the cover does more justice to such a fine book.