Dear America: The Fences Between Us by Kirby Larson
Published by Scholastic Press
Piper Davis is a young teenager when Pearl Harbor is attacked, and her entire world changes in that moment. First of all, her older brother is a navy sailor stationed there, so she’s terrified for him and desperate for answers on whether he, and other young men in her community, survived the attack. Second of all, her father is the pastor for a Japanese Baptist church, so when her entire church is interned in Idaho Piper must go with her father from Seattle to the internment camp to be with the congregation. Although Piper is unhappy being ripped out of her life back in Seattle, she soon becomes good friends with Betty, a Japanese girl from her church, and she begins to see the world in new ways.
I hadn’t read any of the other books in the Dear America series before picking up The Fences Between Us, but now I can see the appeal these books have and I can imagine reading more of them for sure. The novel is told in diary format, which works remarkably well as the reader gets the unique opportunity to really get inside Piper’s head and fully understand her emotions as they go up and down during this difficult time in her life.
I read this book as a judge for the INSPY awards, so I definitely want to touch on the faith aspects of the novel. It’s interesting because the book is so seeped in history, it’s more a book about the US internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War than it is a book about faith, but to me this is a perfect example of God being in the details. It was Pastor Davis’ faith in God that led him to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that what the US government was doing to these people was wrong. It was the church members’ faith in God that led them to believe that brighter days would come, that the internment would only be temporary, and that they would get through whatever was thrown at them. And all along, Piper was trying to understand how the loving and just God she believed in could allow something so awful to happen as this war. And if God did allow it, who was right? Was it okay for these people to be in the camps because their country had attacked the US so horrifically? Obviously once Piper got to the camp and saw the conditions her friends and neighbors were living in she understood it was absolutely not okay. But she certainly goes on a faith journey over the course of the novel, just trying to understand where God is and what His plan is amidst all the craziness of war.
The Fences Between Us was an enjoyable read for me. Piper is a very believable teen narrator, her voice is authentic and she goes through many of the same emotional ups and downs other teens do. In her case, everything is just compounded by the fact that she is dealing with the seriously intense fact that war is all around her. I definitely recommend the book for teens (and adults, but this is really a middle grade/YA book) looking for a novel that creates a nice balance between historical fiction and faith-based fiction.