Review: Love In The Library By Tokuda-Hall & Imamura

Apparently on theme with both of last week’s books which also relate to something Japanese, today’s book is a love story. It is also a mostly true story about a man and a woman who met, married, and held hope while imprisoned in a Japanese American incarceration camp during World War II. An absolutely beautiful story of finding gifts and miracles in an unjust situation, take a look at Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Yas Imamura, 2022.

A Japanese woman walks holding a book past a guard tower surrounded by barbed wire.

Tama is a young woman struggling through the constant monotony of life behind barbed wire fences in the desert. She works in the library in the camp to do something that needs to be done, to pass the time with an unknown ending, and to try not to think about the life that was stolen from her and all the others.

The woman walks towards a hut. An old man is sweeping in the foreground. A young man leans on the building. The woman opens the door and lets the man in. They share a glance.

One of her regular patrons of the library is George. He comes every day with a constant smile and takes a huge pile of books. Like everyone else in the prison camps, their lives had been cut off just because of what they were – Japanese Americans. They all lived in uncomfortable camps, hot in summer, and freezing in winter. Muddy and cramped with no privacy and no ending in sight.

A train is in the background and a crowd of people fill the spread. Young, old, babies, and everything in between all carrying bags and looking concerned.

Tama fought the daily depression of the monotony and injustice with the books. They were a miraculous gift in such a terrible place. And one day, Tama realized that George was a gift too. They talk of the pain and struggles, the fear and frustration, and realize the humanity of them all fighting through it.

Tama & George married in Minidoka camp, and had their first child. They found the gift of love in a place made to make them feel like they weren’t human.

George, the young man looks surprised and silent on the left page. The right shows three vignettes of George and Tama together – George checking out books from Tama, George walking with Tama, and Tama reading a book at a table with George on the other side looking at her.

This book is shockingly lovely. It takes true artists to craft a story in such an awful time in history and an uninspiring setting and make it beautiful. And best of all, it is mostly true. As shared in the author’s note, Tama & George are real people – the grandparents of the author, Maggie Tokuda-Hall. The events are true, the dialogue is imagined. And it is lovely.

A long building fills the span of the spread. Two guards stand around the edges of the page. People keep busy in the middle talking, dancing, playing tag, sweeping, and just sitting and being. George and Tama stand together in the bottom left corner with George's arms around Tama and they are looking at each other.

The illustrations are just incredible. I love the palette that Imamura has used, very muted and earth tones, but still full of color and interest. The characters are also beautiful. I adore their faces and many expressions. It truly is a picture of “humans doing what humans do best.”

I was so surprised with how stunning this book was. It is unusual to have a new picture book whose main characters are adults, but the story is so excellently told and so necessary to tell, I’m so glad the normal child protagonist rule was discarded.

I really hope you’ll check this book out. It is full of love and absolutely lovely. The Japanese American incarceration camps during WWII are so rarely discussed, and this book does a wonderful job of highlighting the injustice and also celebrating the treasure of hope and love that can be found in humanity.

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