Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version
Jeanne is the main character of the book and the protagonist of the memoir. She is the youngest of the Wakatsuki children; as a result, she receives a lot of attention, is somewhat spoiled, and is very sheltered. She is also a happy and confident girl. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, she is very young, barely seven years old.
When her family is forced to leave their home in California and move to Manzanar, it seems like an adventure to her. The horrible living conditions in the camp affect her less negatively than the rest of the family. She rejoices at moving from bunk to bunk, jumping on straw-filled mattresses, playing with friends and running from one mess hall to another, tasting their food. Unable to comprehend the disturbing circumstances that had brought her to Manzanar, Jeanne builds an entertaining childhood for herself within the barbed wires of the camp. She strives for normalcy, taking lesson in twirling, dance, and Odori.
When her father is released from prison and returns to Manzanar, Jeanne's life changes for the worse. For the first time in her life, she is a witness to scenes of violence every day in her home. Anxiety, confusion, and fear become natural emotions for her. In addition to the turmoil at home and the artificial normality of the camp, Jeanne finds puberty to be confusing. She struggles to excel and be accepted. She also seeks attention, which she misses at home. It is her search to be noticed that leads to her interest in the Catholic religion. Her father, however, forbids her to convert, saying she will never find a Japanese husband who is Catholic.
When Jeanne and her family are forced to leave Manzanar, she must face a hostile world back in California during a difficult period of her development. Although she is a very good student at Long Beach Polytechnic High School, pushing herself to excel academically and in twirling, she struggles to find a place for herself socially. She watches from a distance as her best friend, Radine, enjoys great popularity. Jeanne, however, never has a date, has few friends, is often resented by the teachers, and is even rejected from joining the Girl Scouts.
Jeanne often wishes she were invisible; since she cannot make herself disappear, she tries to fit in better by rejecting her own heritage and trying to seem totally American, a fact that enrages her father. In spite of her efforts, both students and teachers in Long Beach are still resentful of her Japanese background.
When Ko moves the family to San Jose, Jeanne's life improves greatly. She finds much greater acceptance at her new high school. Her self-confidence increases to the point that she enters and wins a pageant, being crowned the Carnival Queen; however, many adults, including her father and some of her teachers, resent the fact that a Japanese girl has become so American and won the contest. Fortunately, Jeanne's mother supports her daughter's efforts to fit into her new society.
After high school, Jeanne goes on to college, becoming the first Wakatsuki to ever graduate. She is also the only family member to marry a white. Her husband, James Houston, helps her face her past and return to Manzanar. He then helps Jeanne to write the memoir, reflecting on her experience of having grown up in a Japanese detention camp.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version