Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer

Camp Nine by Vivienne Schiffer
198 pages
Published The University of Arkansas Press October 2011
Source: TLC Book Tours and the publisher

Twelve-year-old Chess Morton lives in Rook, Arkansas, a speck of a town in the Black Bayou, with her widowed mother. Despite living deep in the south in the early 1940's, Chess lives her life largely oblivious to the world around her. Until her grandfather sells a piece of land that Chess inherited from her father to the U.S. Government. Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the government relocated thousands of Japanese Americans to camp throughout the U.S. Camp Nine, one of these camps, sprang from the land that had been Chess' and would serve to change her life.

Chess' mother offers to teach art lessons to the prisoners of Camp Nine, befriending many of the families, particularly the Matsuis. Although reluctant to have anything to do with the camp at first, Chess is soon fast friends with both of the Matsui boys. Her relationship with each of them will enrich and enlighten her but it will be many years later before David Matsui finally teaches Chess exactly what it was that she was protected from as she was growing up in the bayou.

This is one of those books that made me glad that I've always been willing to take a chance with books I've never heard of; thanks to TLC Book Tours for always bringing them to my attention. Schiffer's debut is lovely and charming in a way that is utterly unexpected given the very tough subjects that it tackles. She immerses her reader deep into the Mississippi delta and an area of open racism and brings to life the divide between black and white, rich and poor. Chess brings to mind an older Scout Finch as she comes to terms with the reality of the relationships between herself and those around her. Just as Scout came to view her father as a complete person, Chess comes to see her mother as someone more than just a mother.
"She never voiced her frustration about it to me, but I realize she could have picked up and left with me then, gone to another state, and fought him [Chess' grandfather]. But she understood that my place was on the plantation, whatever it might mean to her personal freedom. I wish I'd understood then all of the choices she made to preserve my interests over her own."

 Readers will undoubtedly recall Jamie Ford's The Hotel On The Corner of Bitter and Sweet when reading Camp Nine, as both deal with the Japanese interment camps. But where Hotel dealt strictly with the situation from the Japanese point of view, Camp Nine details how the impact the camps may have had on the areas surrounding them as well as bringing to light life in these "camps."

Camp Nine would make a wonderful book club selection with much to discuss and a book to enjoy. For more opinions on this book, check out the full tour at TLC Book Tours.

Vivienne Schiffer

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