By: Eleanor McCallie Cooper
Publisher: Koehler Books
Publication Date: August 2021
Reviewed by: Holly Connors
Review Date: January 1, 2022
A young girl who witnesses the Japanese invasion of China forms the basis for Eleanor McCallie Cooper's mesmerizing new young adult novel, Dragonfly Dreams.
A step back in time to December, 1941, is the setting for the start of Dragonfly Dreams where we meet Nini and her best friend Chiyoko. A dragonfly has landed on Nini's arm and she's about to remove it when Chiyoko stops her. Chiyoko explains that, "...When a dragonfly lands on you, it's good luck. It's a sign that change is coming. You better watch your dreams, Nini." If only the girls knew just how true that would turn out to be...
Nini lives in a coastal city in China and on the very first page of the story the action begins. Nini and Chiyoko are walking home from school when their path is blocked by Japanese soldiers. The soldiers are cruelly pushing people aside to make room for a fancy car that is moving toward them. When one of the soldiers notices the two girls, Chiyoko is too frightened to move, but Nini grabs her friend and the two manage to slip away.
Once the friends are a safe distance from the commotion, Chiyoko, having been told by her father about the impending Japanese invasion, warns Nini about the dangers that lay ahead. While Chiyoko's father is Japanese, thus likely ensuring her family's relative safety, Nini's mother is American which makes Nini's entire family "the enemy." Life is about to get very dangerous for Nini and her family.
Before the best friends separate, they agree to pass notes to each other by hiding those notes behind a brick at their secret meeting place. Unfortunately, as time goes by, sharing their lives through their notes gets quite difficult as the Japanese become more entrenched in China.
It isn't long before Nini's world is torn apart. When her father, Da, comes home from work, he explains that his job is in jeopardy. While he is the chief engineer at the local water company, because he is married to an American, his loyalties will be questioned. And soon soldiers come to their home to take all the furniture, and everything else that has any value. Before long, the family is forced to leave their home and go into hiding to protect Nini's American mother and, in fact, the entire family. Will Nini ever see Chiyoko again? And more importantly, will Nini and her family survive the long occupation by the Japanese?
Based on the true story of the Liu family (the author shares the family's story in her "Author's Note" - it's a fascinating read), the story of Nini and her family is one that easily draws in the reader. The brutality of the occupation is handled in a sensitive way but without diminishing the daily struggles so many people experienced during the Japanese occupation. We witness life through the eyes of Nini as she watches a family friend forced onto a bus with other foreigners (to what fate she can only guess), accompanies her mother to a hotel where she and other foreigners are forced to wear armbands that denote their nationality, as well as attend a new school that is run by the Japanese where Nini is "taught" about the evils of the Americans. As things continue to devolve, readers get a glimpse of the horrors of life during the Japanese occupation of China. And when a typhoid outbreak erupts, the reader starts to wonder if the entire family will survive... Dragonfly Dreams is an excellent read for young adults who will learn quite a bit, from a young girl and her life in war-torn China.
Quill says: A story that educates as it entertains, and one of those rare reads that will linger in your thoughts long after the last page is read.
For more information on Dragonfly Dreams, please visit the author's website at: www.eleanormccalliecooper.com