Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Last Cherry Blossom by Kathleen Burkinshaw {review}

The Last Cherry Blossom 
by Kathleen Burkinshaw
♦publisher: Sky Pony Press
♦release date: August 2nd, 2016
♦hardcover, 240 pages
♦intended audience: Middle Grade
♦source: from publisher for honest review
Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan's fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

Review: The Last Cherry Blossom is a very personal look at the bombing of Hiroshima and the days of one girl's life that led up to it. The story is based on the author's mother's account of living through such a horrific event, and knowing this going in made reading The Last Cherry Blossom all the more poignant.

Yuriko was a great character to read, just a normal 12-year-old who tries hard in school, likes to laugh with her best friend, and loves her Papa.  Her days are becoming more and more shadowed by the war, but on top of that, there is a mysterious family secret that unfolds for Yuriko and it really sheds a light on the cultural views of family and honor, especially in the way that it was handled after it came to light.  With everything that Yuriko goes through, I loved her bravery and resilience though it all. 

Each chapter starts with an announcement of war propaganda, most of them dated. This cast an eerie shadow over the story in two ways: it shows how the government was hiding losses from it's people and it gave the reader a way to feel the day of the bombing approach.  There was something very intense about reading even the most mundane details of Yumiko's daily life while in the back of your mind knowing the date of the bombing is creeping closer and closer. The war is going on outside of their city, and while some effects of it touch her life, like a neighbor's son going off to war or her best friend starting work in the plane factory, you know  that what feels a bit calm and normal for her is about to come to a horrible end.

While I loved all the Japanese culture that is included in this story, there were some parts of it that felt like it was forced in, not woven into the story organically.  There were times when Yuriko would take notice of some detail or explain something to another character that felt like it was just there to educate the reader. But still, it added to my own enjoyment to learn about the customs and ceremonies of this rich culture.  This is a beautiful but absolutely devastating glimpse into a terrifying event and a great lesson that in every conflict, there are real people on every side.


Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote The Last Cherry Blossom based on her own mother’s story of growing up in Hiroshima during World War II. She was twelve years old when the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. Kathleen lives with her husband and daughter in Charlotte, North Carolina.


Purchase the book:  Indiebound  •  BookDepository  •  Amazon


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