As Bridge of Scarlet Leaves opens, Maddie Kern is hiding the fact that she is dating her brother's best friend, Lane Moritomo, from her brother TJ. Maddie has spent her entire life preparing for entrance into Julliard, devoting endless time to violin practice. With her parents out of the picture (her mom is dead, her father indisposed), TJ sees himself as in charge of his sister and her future, attempting to protect her from any distractions such as dating and men. While Maddie and Lane are already aware of the judgments they could face from American society due to their different racial backgrounds, they choose to elope, only to wake up the morning after the wedding to discover that Japan has attacked the US at Pearl Harbor, making Lane an instant target for hatred.
TJ, already under pressure to keep his scholarship due to declining academic and athletic achievement, feels especially betrayed when he discovers the secret elopement, and comes to blows with his best friend. The rest of the novel follows these three main characters through World War II as they must choose loyalties and sides. Lane and his family end up in an internment camp, and Maddie eventually gives up her dreams of Julliard to follow Lane to the camp. TJ enlists, and gets sent to the Pacific Theater of the war. McMorris covers a lot of territory in this novel, and one female character even ends up playing baseball professionally (which immediately made me want to watch A League of Their Own again). After facing judgment from Lane's family, Maddie begins to develop an understanding of Japanese culture as she struggles through hardships with his family.
The thing is that this novel is basically a very by the numbers World War II novel. I enjoyed it while I was reading it, and I certainly understand McMorris's motivation behind writing it - her father was Japanese, her mother Caucasian, and when she discovered that in addition to all the Japanese in the internment camps, an additional 200 non-Japanese people lived in these camps in order to be with their families, she was inspired to write about them. She even talked about a few other things I hadn't really seen too much of before, such as the Japanese-American Soldiers assisting in the Pacific Theater (I am mostly familiar with the Japanese American troops in Europe), and the fact that there were actually some factions of Japanese in the internment camps that were pro-Emperor (a minority, but still not something I had previously seen referenced). This is not a bad book, by any means, but I didn't quite connect with the characters, and feel that they are rather forgettable. It may be that McMorris tried to cover too much territory - Lane enlists into the Army from the internment camp, TJ ends up as a a POW, basically covering every possible occurrence of the war. Considering that most of the topics covered in this novel have already been visited by many other authors, it needed characters I could really care about to stand out, and they are just too bland to distinguish this novel from any others in the pack. If someone wanted to read about Japanese internment camps in America, I would recommend A Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Interested in Japanese-American units in World War II? Read Hawaii by James Michener. For books about the horrors of the POW camps the Japanese ran, I would direct readers to Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides or Tears in the Darkness. If, however, you tend to devour anything World War II related like I do, and you have already read all those amazing books listed above, this novel certainly isn't a waste of time. It's a sweet story, if somewhat predictable, and will certainly fill the fix. I've also read good things about the author's other novel, Letters from Home, and will certainly be giving it a shot in the future.