As Margi Bontrager was reading “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” she kept thinking that even though it was a historical novel, it felt relevant to issues today.
“Even though it’s a story that took place during the second World War, some of the issues then, I kept thinking, ‘This sounds like it could take place today,’” said Bontrager, director of the Greentown Public Library. “The discrimination against the Chinese and Japanese, and people couldn’t tell the difference between them. I think of our Arab Americans and how because of trouble in the Middle East, we’re suspicious of people who have been our neighbors forever. To me, this makes it a very contemporary story.”
The novel, written by Jamie Ford, was chosen by volunteers from the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library and Greentown Public Library as the 2011 Howard County Reads selection.
The book tells the story of a Chinese-American boy and a Japanese-American girl who become friends during World War II. They are separated when the girl and her family are forced into internment camps, a fate shared by many Japanese-Americans as the U.S. fought Japan in the war.
The libraries will host a jazz concert, writing contest and origami class, along with book discussions, before Ford comes to speak in Kokomo Dec. 1.
Trisha Shively, head of adult and teen services at the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library, said Ford’s appearance was made possible by a partnership between the libraries and the Women’s Symposium, Elizabeth Handley Estate and Indiana University Kokomo. The event will be free, but those who want to attend are asked to pick up a free ticket starting Oct. 1 at any library.
Shively said a committee of library staff and residents considered all books nominated through ballots at the library and online, and narrowed choices to 20, based on being well-written, not too long, character-driven, interesting to a variety of readers and available in paperback. The committee then selected one book as the 2011 Howard County Reads.
Both the Kokomo and Greentown libraries have copies of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” available, in a variety of formats. Both will also have displays of the top 20 selections.
Shively thinks people will like the book chosen because of the interesting culture and the relationship between the two main characters.
“It’s about how childhood relationships affect our lives,” she said.
Shively said she thinks people will be interested in the parts about the internment camps because “it’s not something that is really talked about much in fiction. It gives you a lot to think about.”
Bontrager thinks readers will enjoy the story because it is a good story. She said it took her a while for the story to grab her, but “once I got into it, I really liked it. I couldn’t put it down.”
• Danielle Rush is the Kokomo Tribune education reporter. She can be reached at 765-454-8585 or firstname.lastname@example.org.