Evalina is a high school senior living in San Francisco, California in a loving Italian-American family whose mafia roots are in Chicago. She helps with the family restaurant, has friends, is headed to university, and–most importantly for the story–is in love with a Japanese-American teenager whose family provides produce for the family restaurant. At this time in California interracial marriage is prohibited. While neither Evalina’s nor her boyfriend Taichi’s families are racist, the two know they face serious hurdles in pursuing a romance. They try their best to keep their attraction for each other hidden from family members.
Japan attacks the USA at Pearl Harbor, and Japanese-Americans are soon rounded up and herded into ten internment centers. Taichi’s family is sent to Manzanar CA. While many Caucasian citizens are appalled at the government’s actions regarding its own citizens of Japanese descent, Evalina, a future political science major at college, is especially indignant and outspoken, personal romance aside. She manages to sneak away to see Taichi as he is being shipped out with his family to the concentration camp, and they conduct a correspondence while he is there, which provides the framework for the novel.
This is an excellent book to add to school libraries. It addresses, in all its complexity, an important and unique period in US history. It lends itself very well to class discussion. The romance between Evalina and Taichi, and the struggles of all the young people in this book to grow up and separate themselves and their identities from those of their loving, reasonable families, should be of acute interest to teenagers.
The book is well-written and without bad language or explicit sexual talk/behavior. There is some violence and threatened violence of the mob variety. There are good people, bad people, bitter people, silly people who grow up, people who retreat from the world, and others who face circumstances bravely and with hope. It’s a complicated mishmash, just like real life. In the midst of it all, people are making all kinds of choices when presented with life-or-death issues.
There are a few very small anachronisms regarding teenage life of the period but these are inconsequential compared to the value of this book.
WITHIN THESE LINES reads smoothly and quickly as an entertaining story, but at the same time it educates and stimulates consideration of Big Issues. The ending is satisfying, realistic, and hopeful. Like any good piece of young adult literature, it is suitable for adults as well.