RITA Reader Challenge Review

RITA Reader Challenge: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves by Kristina McMorris


Title: Bridge of Scarlet Leaves
Author: Kristina McMorris
Publication Info: Kensington 2012
ISBN: 9780758246851
Genre: Historical: American

Book Bridge of Scarlet Leaves This RITA® Reader Challenge 2013 review was written by Sassy Outwater. This story was nominated for the RITA® in the Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category.

The summary:     

Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern's life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother's best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent.

In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy. When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.

And here is Sassy's review:

It’s a bad idea for me to read in public. I wind up doing embarrassing things. A Bridge of Scarlet Leaves should get a big giant neon (audible or Braille neon needs to be invented! Someone get on that, please) sign that says “Snot-drizzling, character-lecturing, tear-jerking, fury-spawning, thought-provoking, tragic, slightly syrupy sappy book ahead.” If there was such a neon sign, I would have left this book at home and not taken it out for tea. But I took it out for tea, and left half of Cambridge wondering if the blind chick needed mental help. I mouthed insults at this book—okay, maybe I said a few of the choicest ones aloud. I air-punched this book. I glued my face to my teacup so people wouldn’t see how drizzly-eyed and snotty-nosed I was getting at times. I did lots of eye-rolling over the cheesier violin and musical references. I really wanted to hate the author for what she put the characters through… but then I decided she was right, and I really wanted to hate World War II for what it put all of us through. So, you’ve been warned. This book weighs an emotional ton. Pick up with caution and a box of Kleenex. And a teacup. Maybe a Bach Partita or two in the background. I had to read this book in small doses. I am not a crier at books or movies. I’m pretty stoic when it comes to my fiction. But this didn’t feel like fiction. That’s why it got me.

The book begins in 1941 Los Angeles, with a college-aged brother and sister, TJ and Maddie, trying to move on a year after their mother’s death, and their father’s subsequent descent into severe depression and catatonia. Maddie is a violinist working toward a conservatory scholarship, and TJ has hopes of playing in the major leagues.

Maddie is secretly dating her childhood friend Lane, a Japanese American Stanford student from a wealthy Japanese banking family. Lane and Maddie keep their romance on the down low, hidden from judging neighbors and especially from family members. Then Lane’s parents arrange a marriage for him to a Japanese girl, and his only hope of escape is convincing Maddie to elope. On December 6, the happy couple ties the knot in Seattle. And on December 7, 1941… well, we all know what happens. Pearl Harbor is bombed, and all Japanese Americans along the west coast are associated with the bombing.

So here’s innocent sweet little Maddie tied to this Japanese boy. She starts experiencing hatred and ostracism from every side, and the betrayal crumbles away the careful bulwark of neighborhood friends and benefactors she’s relied on since her parents left the picture. Then her brother finds out about the marriage and all hell really breaks loose. Troubled and rage-filled TJ is slowly being driven away from everything familiar and happy in his life, and his sister’s marriage to his childhood best friend feels like the last straw.

Lane and his family are immediately investigated by the FBI, and, in fear of his life, Lane takes his mother and little sister and flees Los Angeles. Driven back by their poverty eventually, they surrender to the concentration camps set up for Japanese Americans. Maddie attempts to join her husband, convinced of a comfortable living situation by his bright and cheery letters. What she finds is squalor, fear, desolation and courage. Maddie claims to be pregnant with a “half-breed”, child and is sent to join her husband in the camp.

Meanwhile, Maddie’s brother TJ enlists and is sent to Hawaii to fight. Boredom turns to nightmare when his plane is shot down over enemy territory and he becomes a POW. Half a world apart, each sibling strives to overcome their own fear, spurred on by their love for someone far out of reach. Lane enlists in the army as a translator and leaves Maddie, his mother and sister to care for one another.

And that’s as far as I can summarize without spoiling anything. Will Maddie and Lane reunite after the war? Will TJ be rescued and will he return home brave enough to confess his love for Maddie’s best friend Joe?

The dialogue is straight out of a 1940s black and white movie, all full of yas, and goshes, and gollies, there are even a few swells in there. There are $300 tuition checks (Holy crap I wish!) and I’m not sure if it feels authentic to me or a little too heavy-handed. Same with the music and baseball references. The baseball didn’t bug me so much because I am no baseball aficionado. I kind of went glassy-eyed and comatose whenever TJ takes the mound in one of his USC games. But the violin and classical music references began to get on my nerves after a while. Almost everything significant in Maddie’s life is given a simile or metaphor to music. It’s insidious. I’m a pro musician myself. I think music almost nonstop, but not every moment in my life is comparable to a concerto. There’s laying out a theme, and then there’s leading you to it over and over and over like Enough Already! Got that part! Gee golly gosh, ma’am, it’s swell, but can we move on now? The only other big issue I had with this book was the scene changes. We jump points of view and gaps of time in ways that left my head spinning a few times and I had to mentally run to catch up. Each time I eventually caught up to the class, but a few times I had to stop and ask for directions.

There’s a beautiful subtheme running through here of a musician finally finding her own voice. We’re so inundated with technical training as classical musicians that it does take something, usually momentous and separate from music before we go through that all-important experience of finding our own voice. Learning to take our eyes off the written notes and play it our way sets the line between amateur and expert, if you will. All of Maddie’s experiences lead her to that moment, and I loved that scene.

Along the way, the reminder of what our world was a mere seventy years ago will haunt and hurt. This is a tragedy, full of heartbreaking history, family, love, fear, courage, mistakes and perseverance. Not everyone gets a do-over when a mistake gets made here. There are no easy explanations and misunderstandings corrected by simple gestures and words. And this is so real. Families like this exist. Events like those recounted here did happen. Hatred and fear were this infectious back then… or are they still? Do we still act like this toward other people? Laws changed, fear subsided and the Japanese camps disbanded. People returned home and resumed shattered lives. But how much did things really change? Is prejudice like that still alive and well today, and if so, where? This book will leave you with troubling questions like those. I’m not going to answer any of those questions here because they are political questions; questions perhaps we each answer in a different way based on our own personal history. This book, at its heart, is a story solely devoted to that idea, that we all answer those questions in our own unique way. And just when we’ve answered all those questions and gotten comfortable with our views on life, things change in an instant and we’re forced to change right along with history, like it or not. Or are we?

This book will stay with you. It has its flaws, but it has its lessons and its achingly beautiful story. And at the end, it has some awesome looking recipes for Asian fusion cuisine. The lemon ginger cake is in my oven right now, and I’m telling you, it smells amazing. I give this book a B. The writing is excellent, the story hangs on and won’t let go, but golly gee whiz, it got a little too sappy at times for me, so no A. But it’s definitely one of the strongest Rita books I’ve read this year. I’m rooting for this all the way.

This book is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

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