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Above the East China Sea
A Seattle Times Best Book of the Year
In her most ambitious, moving, and provocative novel to date, Sarah Bird makes a stunning departure. Above the East China Sea tells the entwined stories of two teenaged girls, an American and an Okinawan, whose lives are connected across seventy years by the shared experience of profound loss, the enduring strength of an ancient culture, and the redeeming power of family love.
Luz James, a contemporary U.S. Air Force brat, lives with her strictly-by-the-rules sergeant mother at Kadena Air Base in Okianawa. Luz’s older sister, her best friend and emotional center, has just been killed in the Afghan war. Unmoored by her sister’s death and a lifetime of constant moving from base to base, Luz turns for the comfort her service-hardened mother cannot offer to the “Smokinawans,” the “waste cases,” who gather to get high every night in a deserted cove. When even pills, one-hitters, Cuervo Gold, and a growing crush on Jake Furusato aren’t enough to soften the unbearable edge, the desolate girl contemplates taking her own life.
In 1945, Tamiko Kokuba, along with two hundred of her classmates, is plucked out of her elite girls’ high school and trained to work in the Imperial Army’s horrific cave hospitals. With defeat certain, Tamiko finds herself squeezed between the occupying Japanese and the invading Americans. She believes she has lost her entire family, as well as the island paradise she so loved, and, like Luz, she aches with a desire to be reunited with her beloved sister.
On an island where the spirits of the dead are part of life and your entire clan waits for you in the afterworld, suicide offers Tamiko the promise of peace. As Luz tracks down the story of her own Okinawan grandmother, she discovers that, if she surrenders to the most unbrat impulse and allows herself to connect completely with a place and its people, the ancestral spirits will save not only Tamiko but her as well.
Propelled by a riveting narrative and set at the very epicenter of the headline-grabbing clash now emerging between the great powers, Above the East China Sea is at once a remarkable chronicle of how war shapes the lives of conquerors as well as the conquered and a deeply moving account of family, friendship, and love that transcends time.
About the Author
Sarah Bird, winner of the 2014 Texas Writer Award and a Barnes & Noble Discover Great Writers pick, is the author of The Yokota Officers Club and eight other novels. She grew up on air force bases around the world and now makes her home in Austin, Texas. She is a columnist for Texas Monthly and has contributed to other magazines, including O, The Oprah Magazine; The New York Times Magazine; Salon; and Real Simple.
Praise for Above the East China Sea…
“A stunning account of wartime Okinawa. . . . Wise and sensitive.” —Anthony Marra, San Francisco Chronicle
“Extraordinary. . . . A major display of literary talent—an absolutely don’t-miss novel.” —The Washington Times
“Richly rewarding. . . . Finely wrought.” —Chicago Tribune (Editor's Choice)
“Bird’s fine novel suggests that . . . ancient beliefs can still provide comfort and connection in a modern world.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Engaging, haunting, and illuminating. . . . A unique tale of friendship that defies time and space. . . . Poignant and deeply memorable.” —The Daily Beast
“Compelling. . . . Bird deftly captures the unique, era-appropriate voice of each girl. . . . Revelations are at once heartbreaking and uplifting, and reinforce an Okinawan expression uttered by many of Birds’ unforgettable characters: ‘Nuchi du takara.’ Life is the treasure.” —The Seattle Times
“A moving dual coming-of-age story.” —Marie Claire
“This is the rare tome that has the goods for both popular and critical acclaim at the highest level. . . . After this book, Bird should be a literary household name.” —The Dallas Morning News
“Revelatory.” —Reader’s Digest
“Gripping. . . . This tale of how women and girls survive bloody times manages its happy ending without offering easy answers—quite a feat for such an entertaining read.” —The Austin Chronicle
“To my mind, Bird is the finest living Texas novelist, and Above the East China Sea showcases all of her gifts in spades—her unmistakable voice displays warmth, wit, and that rare variety of irreverence that possesses real heart.” —Robert Leleux, The Texas Observer
“[Bird] has penned elegiac novels of tremendous depth and richness. . . . [Her] latest—Above the East China Sea, a return to her military-brat youth in Asia—may be her best.” —San Antonio Express-News
“Fascinating. . . . Above the East China Sea provides welcome context to the news reports from an island whose pivotal place in global power politics remains mostly unexamined.” —BookPage
“[Has] immense teen appeal. . . Teens will be turning pages quickly.” —School Library Journal
“An extraordinary novel. . . . Intermingles past and present young adult lives, with entertaining banter plus a touch of the supernatural. . . . A gratifying read. Highly recommended.” —Historical Novel Society
“Readers won’t soon forget Tamiko’s searing depiction of her experiences during the Battle of Okinawa. . . . A multilayered and utterly involving work.” —Booklist
“A rich and engrossing achievement. . . . A suspenseful and magical journey.” —Library Journal
“Fascinating. . . . Ambitious and rewarding. . . . [A] powerful sense of history and place.” —Publishers Weekly