I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Nora & Kettle by Lauren Nicolle Taylor
Release date: February 29th, 2016
Publisher: Clean Teen Publishing
Genres: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
What if Peter Pan was a homeless kid just trying to survive, and Wendy flew away for a really good reason?
Seventeen-year-old Kettle has had his share of adversity. As an orphaned Japanese American struggling to make a life in the aftermath of an event in history not often referred to—the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the removal of children from orphanages for having “one drop of Japanese blood in them”—things are finally looking up. He has his hideout in an abandoned subway tunnel, a job, and his gang of Lost Boys.
Desperate to run away, the world outside her oppressive brownstone calls to naïve, eighteen-year-old Nora—the privileged daughter of a controlling and violent civil rights lawyer who is building a compensation case for the interned Japanese Americans. But she is trapped, enduring abuse to protect her younger sister Frankie and wishing on the stars every night for things to change.
For months, they’ve lived side by side, their paths crossing yet never meeting. But when Nora is nearly killed and her sister taken away, their worlds collide as Kettle, grief stricken at the loss of a friend, angrily pulls Nora from her window.
In her honeyed eyes, Kettle sees sadness and suffering. In his, Nora sees the chance to take to the window and fly away.
What caught my eye was the mention of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, a topic that it seems no one wants to discuss. It’s a low point in American history but one that needs to be discussed more openly as there still is the fear of the “other”. This book addresses that issues as well as others such as domestic violence extremely well. It’s heartbreaking and utterly devastating, but also hopeful and inspiring. It contains some elements of the Peter Pan story, but I wouldn’t call it a retelling. When I first read it I didn’t make the connection to Peter Pan, even though it mentions it in the synopsis. The Peter Pan references don’t add or take away from the novel as it’s completely unique and beautiful all on its own.
The story revolves around two characters: Kettle, a Japanese American, and Nora, the daughter of a civil rights activist. Kettle spent much of his childhood in a Japanese internment camp. The camps were setup after the bombing of Pearl Harbour in 1941 as a way to forcibly monitor Japanese Americans because the government thought that their loyalty to the US was questionable. Now, after the war, Kettle is still faced with many hardships. He is still the “other”, an outcast in American society who is living rough and trying to scrape together a living. He lives with other boys in his situation and works his hardest to live an honest life. He won’t lower himself to steal because it would only feed into the prejudices associated with his heritage.
While Kettle’s story was heartbreaking, Nora’s was horrifying. On the outside everything in her life was perfect. However, behind closed doors she suffered immensely. She was the target of her father’s abuse (which was very difficult to read about). I was very disturbed by her father because he was a man that fought to hard for the rights of Japanese Americans, for social justice, and then he was terrorizing and damaging his own children. There were times when I had to close the book and walk away. It was just too painful. Nora was completely hopeless. Both children had to grow up so quickly, one little mistake and their misery could become much worse.
Kettle and Nora’s stories are told separately for much of the novel. While reading you can make connections, but things truly become magically when they converge. The book takes on a different tone; one of hope and self discovery. What’s most encouraging is the discovery that two people from completely different backgrounds can come together and help each other. Kettle isn’t the “other” and Nora isn’t damaged or worthless, they are two human beings that as friends can improve their place in the world.
The book was an emotional rollercoaster. I laughed at times and tried to push on reading through my tears. This is a book that I think everyone should read. It contains so many lessons and forces the reader to examine their own beliefs and prejudices. It’s a difficult read but one that I won’t soon forget.