Set in World War II, PAPER WISHES follows ten-year-old Manami and her Japanese American family as they are interned in the Manzanar internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In an unbearably poignant scene Manami is forced to abandon her dog Yujiin on her way to the camp. Her family is confined in the desert – so different from her home on Bainbridge Island – but we see them stoically coping in their new surroundings. Both Grandfather and Manami struggle to accept the loss of Yujiin but Manami hopes that somehow he will find his way to them and so she releases drawings of him into the desert air – the “paper wishes” of the title. To tell you any more would spoil the book so I’ll leave you to discover the resolution for yourself.
Lois Sepahban’s writing is spare yet powerful – she manages to convey the essence of a place or a person in very few words. Written in the first person point-of-view, we feel the depth of Manami’s emotions, especially when she is describing why she can’t speak. I am in awe of a writer who can bring us so close to a character and make us feel her pain, her guilt, and her love. This is a fabulous debut and I hope we see many more books from Lois.