From The Asian Reporter, V13, #8 (February 18-24, 2003), page 16.
Beacon Hill Boys
By Ken Mochizuki
Scholastic Press, 2002
Hardcover, 201 pages, $16.95
By Josephine Bridges
Itís early spring in 1972 and Dan Inagakiís family is celebrating
his little brotherís birthday at a Japanese restaurant. Dan begins to
tell the story of his coming of age by admitting that he "tried to
peek at what the waitress wore beneath her kimono." Late that same
spring, when the family returns to celebrate Big Brother Bradís
graduation from high school, Dan concludes his story by explaining that he
could have peeked again, but instead made sure to look away. A lot has
happened in one season.
Ken Mochizuki has a gift for startling understatement and deft
description. We learn Danís age when he tells the reader, "At least
I had a good year to go before I would have to register for the
draft." In the next paragraph he precedes his physical attributes
with, "Getting ready for the day left me with no choice but to look
at myself in the mirror."
Danís having a rough time at home, where his parents compare him to
Golden Boy Brad and find him wanting, and at school, where his history
teacher replies to his question about Japanese internment camps by saying,
"We only teach American history around here." Dan joins with
Native American and Chicano students to ask for a history class that
addresses not only the camps but also "Cesar Chavez and Wounded
Knee." When the Black Student Union gets involved, the school
administration creates a class in comparative American cultures. Back at
home, his father is far from pleased. "The nail that sticks up the
highest gets hit the hardest," he tells Dan. "You better worry
about what other people will think."
When Dan complains, itís with grim humor. He empathizes with a
fluorescent light bulb that flickers before it dies: "I looked up and
thought, You ainít the only one having to eat it these days, brother
man." But this young man has the stubborn spirit of a born
activist, and he does more than just complain. When he has spent his
spring break working at a family friendís ice cream shop, his boss tells
him, "Iíll put you on the payroll next week after you work the
night shift a few more times and learn how to close up." Dan quits.
"Getting trained is just like going to school, and you donít get
paid for going to school," admonishes Brad. His father adds,
"Heck, in our day we helped our own out, pay or no pay."
One of the great strengths of Beacon Hill Boys is the depth of
its characters and the extent to which they learn and grow. Bradís white
girlfriend tells Dan a story of Japanese-American heroism in the Second
World War, and Danís father finds an unexpected way to express a
newfound pride in his middle son. Dan also discovers that Janet, the
object of his silent adoration and one of the most popular girls in the
graduating class, suffers from loneliness and regret.
This novel conveys the early seventies largely through the delicious
music that makes life bearable for Dan and his friends; a discography at
the end of the book makes it possible for readers to create their own
soundtracks. References to Bergman movies and the mining of Haiphong
Harbor evoke the unsettling time when not only a young Japanese American
in Seattle, but an entire nation, was struggling mightily. While Beacon
Hill Boys is aimed at teenagers, this reviewer, who was Dan Inagakiís
age in 1972, was moved and inspired thirty years later by Ken Mochizukiís
story of everyday heroism.