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After The Bloom by Leslie Shimatakahara

It was bad enough being Japanese. It was the 60s and as one of the only two girls of Asian descent in her school, Rita sensed the discrimination. She felt everything a new immigrant kid feels living in a racially skewed city. Embarrassment. Fear of rejection. A heightened sense of being perceived as different. Rita lived in constant fear that her friends would find out that there was something funny about her mom. The last thing she wanted was to be seen as both the Japanese girl and the girl with the crazy mother.

Rita’s dad left when she was less than a year old. How do you get over someone you can’t remember? The mother-daughter relationship has continued to evolve,  but the baggage and pain of the past have stayed, and the tight rope between them feels like it could snap at the touch of a finger.  

Perhaps if she had been a bit older when her dad ran off, Rita may have seen her mom's aloneness as a distinctive change from an earlier, happier state. For Lily, struggling to get by, was simply the norm that she had become accustomed to as a way of survival. She was a non-nonsense, non-sentimental type of person. Like the song originally written by Billy Ocean in 1995, When the going gets tough, the tough get going, Lily simply rolled up her sleeves and set off to do whatever needed to be done to ensure her family's survival. 

While Rita’s grandfather told stories of an internment camp, where all people of
Japanese descent had been imprisoned on suspicion of being traitors throughout the war, Rita’s mom Lily always insisted that she never set foot in a place like that. Was that just one of the many memories her mom was suppressing?
Growing up Rita recounts a few times when her mom suddenly became confused and dissociated. Perhaps something from her past seeped its way into the present, sending her into a state of partial mental paralysis. 

Cut back to the present, and Lily has gone missing. Despite their differences over the last few years, Rita is genuinely concerned. She only hopes that her mother's acute survival skills will serve her well and bring back home safely. 

On the surface, After The Bloom may be seen as a story about the struggles of an immigrant family, but at the core is the relationship of a mother and a daughter. The emotions are intimate and raw, and a reminder that the secrets of the past inevitably catch up with us. And only in confronting these roadblocks can we put them behind us. 

The story moves seamlessly from the past and the present, from Lily's story as a young girl, to present day, where Rita is haunted by her own issues of her childhood, dealing with the challenges of her current situations as a single parent, while balancing family and the demons of her past. 

The book also takes us into a dark period of history where people were placed in internment camps in the California desert during the Second World War. Juxtaposed between politics and the more simpler side of life in Canada, After The Bloom takes a human approach, telling a story of one family's struggle to forget and adapt to a new life in a foreign country. Well-written and engaging, Leslie Shimotakahara has a gem on her hands. Giving readers a snapshot of life at the internment camps and the repercussions after, it gives us a history lesson that is intimate and moving.