I read this book a very long time ago & I’m incredibly cross at myself that it’s taken me this long to get round to reviewing it, especially as the story is so special & one that I really enjoyed. This beautiful book is based on Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s story & it’s an incredibly moving tale.
⚠️ This book contains discussions of World War 2, as well as scenes of the aftermath of a nuclear bomb ⚠️
Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.
This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.
When I started The Last Cherry Blossom I knew it wasn’t an adult book, but I didn’t realise it was a middlegrade story, however, I ended up loving that it was & I feel it added more emotion to the book as Kathleen was able to capture the thoughts & feelings of a young girl so well. This story is set during World War 2 but all Yuriko is worried about is losing out on quality time with her father & losing time with her best friend – she has no idea what horrors were just around the corner & that’s one of the most heart-breaking things about this book. Kathleen does an excellent job of lulling the reader into a false sense of security as the book opens with us following Yuriko round as she lives out her day-to-day life, drawing the reader in & making them care about this sweet, young girl. But, when the inevitable happens & the famous Hiroshima bomb detonates, Yuriko’s life is completely destroyed & its heart-shattering.
Yuriko’s story is loosely based on part of Kathleen’s mother’s life & this is clear throughout as the story is written in the moving way that only true stories can be. Whenever I read a story based on the life of the author or of someone special to them, the read always feels different & the combination of that emotion & Kathleen’s enthralling writing, creates a book that’s hard to put down & impossible not to get attached to. Reading about Yuriko’s life both before & after the bombing was interesting because both explored events that shook Yuriko’s world, but in very different ways. It was hard reading about these significant changes in a young girl’s life, know that these things really happened & all I could think about was how resilient Yuriko was & how I would never have been able to cope as well as she did.
I really enjoyed this book & I was so grateful to win a copy as it had been on my tbr for ages. What Kathleen’s mother went though is unimaginable & completely heartbreaking, & I’d love to know more about the rest of her life; I really hope it’s been happy. Nevertheless, books like this are incredibly important – Yuriko was an innocent child who was dragged, unwillingly into the evilness of war. Yukiro didn’t want Japan to fight, she didn’t want to watch her life be destroyed. The Last Cherry Blossom shows that when war happens, it affects so many people, people that the leaders & instigators do not ever consider. I think it’s hideous what the Japanese leaders/military did during World War Two – especially to the Koreans – but children like Yuriko had their lives destroyed when people fought back & that’s devastating.
Kathleen has produced a beautiful but harrowing story in The Last Cherry Blossom & to this day, it’s still one of the most upsetting war books I’ve read. Stories like these need to be told & I think Kathleen is incredible for exploring her mother’s experiences in this way. The paperback comes out today so please check it out – hardbacks & digital copies are also available:
Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.com | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Hive | IndieBound
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