Clark and Division by Naomi Hirahara
I scored this critically acclaimed novel in my book bag at California Crime Writers, and since Naomi Hirahara was attending, I was also able to get it signed!
In Clark and Division, young Aki Ito relates the story of her family - her parents and her adored older sister Rose. The young women are Nisei, first generation American-born children of Japanese immigrants in pre-World War II Los Angeles. Their father is a grocery manager and despite sometimes experiencing discrimination, Aki and Rose have a pretty content life in California. That is until Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor propels the United States into World War II.
The Ito family spends time at Manzanar before being re-settled in Chicago. Rose precedes her family to the windy city by a few months, but when the rest of the Itos arrive they are greeted with horrific news: Rose is dead, having just been hit by a subway car in the Clark and Division Station.
Having always existed contently in Rose's beautiful, sophisticated shadow, Aki is not only devastated by her sister's death but also compelled to investigate it. When the coroner, who has ruled Rose's death a suicide, informs Aki that her sister recently underwent a highly illegal abortion, she is even more determined to find out what happened and to prove that Rose wouldn't have taken her own life. What follows is a determined journey in which Aki blooms from the mousy, subservient sister into a smart, beautiful, and relentless woman fearlessly taking on the mystery of her sister's brief life in Chicago even when it puts her in dangerous situations, while also dealing with the brutally unfair hand that life has dealt her and her Japanese-American family and community. And she does it with admirable grace and strength.
The story sucks you in and I just devoured this book. One thing that really stood out to me was that in addition to Aki, the large number of supporting characters are so well fleshed out. Each is a unique individual with their own voice. While Aki is compelling, she is also surrounded by a colorful cast that rings true.
I didn't realize it until now, but Clark and Division is the first of a series featuring Aki. The second, Evergreen, will be released in August and I'm looking forward to reading more about the life and times of Aki Ito.