Within These Lines
World War II stories are some of my favorite things to read, so it should come as no surprise to anyone that I jumped at the chance to review Within These Lines by Stephanie Morrill. It’s the story of two teenagers torn apart by the decision of the American government to force Americans of Japanese descent into internment camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It’s a poignant story that deals with some extremely sensitive issues, and I’m so glad I took the time to read it.
Evalina’s life is as close to perfect as anyone’s could possibly be. Her family is close, she’s doing well in school, and even though she’s recently broken up with her boyfriend, Evalina’s pretty sure she’ll find someone she’s more compatible with before too much time passes. She’s heard stories of the war raging overseas, but the terrors of war haven’t really touched her life.
Taichi is the son of Japanese immigrants. His father is a farmer who delivers produce to the restaurant owned by Evalina’s family, and although he’s seen Evalina from a distance, the two of them have never spoken until Taichi accompanies his father on a delivery one afternoon and they happen to strike up a conversation. From that moment on, they’re drawn to one another in ways neither fully understands.
Taichi and Evalina begin spending time together in secret. Interracial marriage is illegal in California, but as their relationship blossoms into something neither can imagine living without, they become ever more determined to find a way to be together. But when Pearl Harbor is attacked, and Japanese immigrants are forced into internment camps, their love is threatened by forces stronger than either of them could have imagined.
The story is told in alternating chapters, allowing the reader to see things from both Evalina’s and Taichi’s perspectives. I was particularly drawn to the chapters from Taichi’s point of view, as they gave me a glimpse into a part of American history I don’t know very much about. Life in the internment camp was far from easy, and Ms. Morrill does a great job bringing it to life through Taichi’s eyes. I enjoyed Evalina’s chapters too, but her story wasn’t quite as compelling. She’s desperate to remain connected to Taichi despite the physical distance between them. She struggles with the racism her friends and family exhibit on an almost constant basis, and I really loved how dedicated she was to helping people see the errors in their thinking. It would have been much easier for her to sit down and shut up the way her parents want her to, but she doesn’t give into social pressure.
Within These Lines is not at all an easy read, but it is an extremely important one. The novel contains some disturbing scenes of racial violence that might be distressing to some readers, but these are things we all need to be more aware of. The descriptions are pretty graphic, but I didn’t find them to be at all gratuitous.
Evalina and Taichi have a beautiful relationship; there was something so magical about watching them fall in love. There are a ton of obstacles standing in the way of their HEA, but I was confident these two smart, resourceful, compassionate people would find a way to make things work out in their favor.
My one quibble with the book is the rather rushed nature of the ending. The rest of the novel was perfectly paced, but it almost felt like Ms Morrill ran out of steam when she got close to finishing the story. It’s not that the ending is unrealistic, but I found it difficult to wrap my head around how quickly the issues in the couple’s way were resolved. In spite of this, I’m eager for the world to embrace Evalina’s and Taichi’s story. Its beauty and power are a testament to what true love looks like, even in the darkest of times.