Henry is a Chinese American in Seattle during WWII. The Japanese have just bombed Pearl Harbour and tensions between Americans and Japanese are at an all time high. Henry's parents came to the USA from China, having suffered at the hands of the Japanese and despise them even more than the Americans. His father strictly forbids Henry from having anything to do with anything Japanese, and sends him to an all-white school to keep him out of trouble.
Henry tries to stay clear of the bullies, helps in the kitchens at lunch, and cleans up the school after the last bell. Then one day he's no longer the only Asian at the school. Keiko starts attending Henry's school and performing all the same work activities that Henry does. He knows he should stay clear of her but just can't help but be drawn in.
40 years later, Henry is a father and widower, and is sucked back in time when the Panama Hotel opens up their basement, which is full of Japanese family's belongings from when the Japanese were taken to internment camps. Henry wonders if there's a piece of Keiko in the Hotel and all his memories come flooding back.
This story provides a bit of insight in to what was going on in the US during WWII to Japanese and Japanese-Americans. Americans rounded up the Japanese, removed them of their belongings, and sent them off to camps. Isn't that similar to what happened with the Nazis rounding up Jewish people? The outsiders view of this was interesting, and as sad as the other books I've read on this from the Japanese point of view.
This book is really a romance though. An incredibly sweet and touching romance with an ending that moved me.
First Line: "Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel."