Summer Reading

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

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Henrys Lee's Bitter and Sweet World

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet follows Henry Lee at two stages in his life. One in 1942, when he is a twelve-year-old with a crush on a Japanese girl, and in 1986, when he is recently widowed. Set in Seattle, the story unfolds in chapters that go back and forth between the two different time periods.


Henry as a young boy is caught between worlds, an all white elementary school, his Chinese-speaking parents, and his secret friendship with Keiko, a Japanese girl. Unlike his father, Henry does not choose his friends based on skin color or where they came from. Henry was born in America, and he would like to consider himself an American. He has a deep sense of fairness and doesn't care what others think of him, unlike other characters in the story. He hides photos for Keiko’s family because Japanese were being persecuted more harshly then the chinese because of the bombing of pearl harbor. He still hides the photos although it is the total opposite of what his very strict father would want him to do. His dad doesn't want Henry to be friends with Kieko because he doesn't want henry to associate with the Japenese. He think it would ruin the chances of Henry ever being a regular American boy, thats why he put henry in an all white school. Henry and Keiko formed a bond, with them being the only "different" kids in school in was almost bound to happen , even though its frowned upon by his father. henry would do anything for Keiko and stands up to bullies, especially to protect Keiko’s honor.


"It was 1942 and they were desperate for him to learn English. Which only made Henry more confused when his father pinned a button to his shirt that read, 'I am Chinese' the contrast seemed absurd."(pg. 12). The quote reflects Henrys act of acknowledgement for what his father is trying to do for him. Mr. Lee (Henrys dad) wants his son to have the best education, while also making sure nobody mistakes him for a Japanese boy. Henry would like to speak Chinese to him family because its the way he would like to communicate, but his father wants him to try his best and be a regular American. Which to Henry means try and be something your not. This creates an internal conflict for Henry, he's confused about who he is. On one hand he wants to make his father proud by trying to be an American boy, but on the other he's masking who he really is which is a Chinese boy.


It is 1986 and Henry is now recently widowed, and took and early retirement after his wife had passed. He wondered passed the Panama Hotel, and noticed a news conference in progress. Belongings of a number of Japenese families had been found in the basement of the Panama Hotel. "Its a record! she pulled out a dingy white record sleeve: its size was odd by contempoary standards. It was an old 78, samatha handed it to him. It was twice as heavy as todays records: still, he felt it give. he didn't even have to take th old record out to know it was broken in half...like so many things Henry had wanted in life- his father, his marriage, his life-it had arrived a little damaged. Imperfect. But he didn't care, this is all he wanted."(pg. 142) Henry had always been looking for something of Keikos and all this time it was right under his nose. Although it it broken, it gives Henry hope to find Keiko and is enough to satisfy him for a lifetime.


After reading this book i would say i am praising it. I would recommend this book for anyone looking for change in their reading style. i say that because the book is set in the 1940s and 1980s, since it alternates between time periods. I thought that was interesting and have never read a story that has had that. The author Jamie Ford did an excellent job of symbolizing in this book, everything had a deeper meaning behind it and connected Henry to Keiko in some way. you could really connect with the characters because of the way Jamie Ford portrayed them. You could see how Henrys mind set changed from when he was a young boy to an older wiser man.

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