cover image The Last Cherry Blossom

The Last Cherry Blossom

Kathleen Burkinshaw. Skyhorse/Sky Pony, $16.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-63450-693-9

This debut novel, set in Hiroshima during WWII and inspired by Burkinshaw’s mother’s childhood, sets the stage for tragedy. Seventh-grader Yuriko lives with her widowed newspaper magnate Papa, her Aunt Kimiko, and her annoying five-year-old cousin, Genji. Burkinshaw uses newspaper headlines, radio messages, and official propaganda to introduce each chapter, placing events in historical context and sometimes offering ironic contrasts between the reality of war and the official party line. War colors all aspects of the lives of Yuriko and her classmates as they practice wielding bamboo spears in gym class, fighter planes fly overhead, and Yuriko’s best friend hides a contraband jazz record after Western products are banned. Just as Yuriko’s Papa takes a new wife and her aunt remarries, she learns a series of family secrets. In some cases the incorporation of historical and cultural information into Yuriko’s narration can feel artificial (“I’m not sure why Japan annexed Korea”), but the eventual bombing of Hiroshima proves nightmarishly horrifying, and readers will readily empathize with Yuriko’s losses and will to survive. Ages 11–13. Agent: Anna Olswanger, Olswanger Literary. (Aug.)