Making the Grade / Paper Wishes

Hello, hello!

Making the GradeHappy Sunday! My school vacation is finally here, and, I’ll be honest, I couldn’t be more grateful for the time at home. That’s not to say I have nothing planned {prom dress shopping, one-act play rehearsals, and day trips into the city, here I come}, but, rather, after a taxing tech week and a bout of quizzes and tests, the break from the day-to-day routine is much appreciated. If there’s anything, however, that I can count on to help me decompress after a long day, it’s a good book. I’ve picked up excellent novel after excellent novel as of late – no better way to start the year, if you ask me – making the review process all the more easier. One of my recent favorites is Lois Sepahban’s debut, Paper Wishes. I had my eye on it in December, and I’m delighted to report that it’s just as good as I had hoped. What’s your current read? Any vacation plans?

Paper Wishes


A moving debut novel about a girl whose family is relocated to a Japanese internment camp during World War II – and the dog she has to leave behind.

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family’s life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It’s 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Manami and her family are Japanese American, which means that the government says they must leave their home by the sea and join other Japanese Americans at a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they are going to have to give her dog, Yujiin, to a neighbor to take care of. Manami decides to sneak Yujiin under her coat, but she is caught and forced to abandon him. She is devastated but clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn’t until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can accept all that has happened to her family. {Goodreads}

Main Characters: A+
Lois Sepahban packs plenty of historical events and details in her novel, but what carries the story are the characters, notably the young protagonist, Manami. When her family is forced into a prison camp following the attack on Pearl Harbor, she loses her home, her dog, even her words, but what’s not lost is her compassion and concern for others. Sepahban does a masterful job writing of a girl stricken by the effects of war, taking care to make her as complex of a narrator as her story deserves; one may think Manami to be weak, fragile even, but she proves to be more, growing in courage as the plot carries on and winning the audience’s admiration with each flip of the page. In addition, through Manami’s love of drawing, Sepahban illustrates that having a voice does not necessarily require one to speak aloud, a lesson worth learning no matter how old the reader.

Supporting Characters: A+
There are a number of characters that share in Manami’s journey: her mother and father, doing whatever they can to survive in their upheaval; her grandfather, who mourns the loss of his wife and dog; and her older brother, who comes and takes a position at the camp simply to be with his family. These individuals each show a beauty in their unique traits and habits, and while they don’t define Manami’s growth, they play a substantial part in her acceptance and understanding of the situation. Furthermore, family is redefined throughout the plot by the relationship Manami has with her dear pup, Yujiin, and the connection she forms with her beloved schoolteacher, Miss Rosalie; it’s not limited to the convention of parents and siblings, but rather by all who express love, concern, and support for those they hold dear.

Plot: A-
There are moments in American history that we feel better forgetting, pretending as if these horrific actions and events did not happen on our nation’s soil, but the best historical literature forces us to remember what was done out of fear or prejudice – or, as seen here, introduces these periods of time to young readers. As a middle grade novel, Paper Wishes is aimed towards children of Manami’s age, and Sepahban strikes the fine balance of presenting the material in an accessible manner without diluting the topic at hand. The plot is of the quiet sort – that is to say, it may lose the interest of readers in want of high action – but it remains an engrossing story all the same, thanks in much part to Sepahban’s extensive research on the daily routines in the Japanese prison camps and the Manzanar Riot.

Writing: A
Sepahban’s simplistic prose was a conscious choice, and an effective one at that. Writing without embellishment leaves no room for mistakes, but Sepahban makes it seem effortless, threading words in short, succinct sentences that lend a powerful note to Manami’s narration. Words are chosen carefully and chapters are kept brief as if to echo the loneliness Manami feels, and passages have an alluring quality that draws you into her hopes and fear with a subtle ease.

Final Grade: A
There are certainly times when I push off reviews out of scheduling conflicts or a want of sleep, but there are others points when it takes me weeks to gather my words on a novel because, to put it simply, it’s outstanding. Paper Wishes is one such a book, having me I writing, erasing, and revising my thoughts until I felt they best captured the excellent debut I had read. Sepahban writes with such incredible insight and a profound sense of childhood that I’m not surprised her first novel has been so well-received. In an age where politicians feed on our natural fear of what’s different – people, ideas, places – a book such as Paper Wishes teaches us what we need more of: compassion, empathy, and the courage to speak up against what is wrong.

Have a wonderful Valentine’s Day! :)


2 thoughts on “Making the Grade / Paper Wishes

  1. […] Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban | “Paper Wishes is one such a book, having me I writing, erasing, and revising my thoughts until I felt they best captured the excellent debut I had read. Sepahban writes with such incredible insight and a profound sense of childhood that I’m not surprised her first novel has been so well-received.” […]


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