Under the Broken Sky by Mariko Nagai

Under the Broken Sky

By Mariko Nagai

Under the Broken Sky is a Juvenile Historical Novel chosen by Maine teachers and librarians as one of the many selections for students 4th grade through 8th to read and vote upon in the 2020-2021 Maine Student Book Award (MSBA). Because the content involves graphic traumas of WWII and because some knowledge of history during this time period would likely be beneficial to readers, I would be more apt to recommend it for children in upper middle school, high school, and also for adults.

Be forewarned, Under the Broken Sky may not be for the faint of heart; history is often not pretty, it is too often brutal. I found myself weeping more than once. That said, reading Under the Broken Sky will open a window into history for you that many do not have a view of.

This beautifully written book in free verse, from the perspective of a child, is set during World War II. It deals with the horrors Manchurian immigrants, mostly children and elders, endured and died from fleeing the invading Russians, Chinese, and Americans. This is a different perspective from what we are used to. The American soldiers were considered the enemy by the children in this book.

Natsu, a 12-year-old girl, and her little sister, Asa, lived on a quiet farm in Manchuria, bordering Russia. They had been motherless for many years. When their father was conscripted into the Japanese Army, they were also fatherless; it was Natsu’s responsibility to take care of Asa. A woman they called “aunt” moved in with them and awoke them in the night. She yelled at them in a panic to run with her as fast as they could and stay together. The Russians were attacking.

Follow along with them during their terrifying journey to see what they had to endure as immigrants.   At one point, to save Asa’s life, Natsu even sold her beloved little sister to a kind and wealthy Russian lady.

What were the many dire circumstances that caused Natsu to sell Asa? Will Natsu and Asa ever reunite again?  Will their father return and find them?  What happened to many orphaned children during this time?  Don’t forget to read the author’s notes to find out the “rest of the story”.

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