Eugene Weekly : Books : 2.5.2009


Who We Were, Who We Are
Oregon Reads Stubborn Twig 
By Suzi Steffen

Good nonfiction can change lives, heal wounds, show us what a list of facts can never quite manage. When I taught writing and critical reading to first-year students at the University of Iowa. I liked to use well-researched books with strong narratives — including UO prof Lauren Kessler’s Stubborn Twig: Three Generations in the Life of a Japanese-American Family. I’d receive reading journals that described how much the 18-year-olds resisted the tale at first. But soon they’d be deeply drawn into the tale of the Yasui family of Hood River. A photo caption revealed information that Kessler concealed until later in the narrative, and the students complained furiously: Midwestern farm kids and kids from the Chicago suburbs cared so much about this literary book, a story about a family long ago and far away, that they wanted to write the publisher and demand a fix. Some of them, like me, cried as we read portions of the end.

So it’s no surprise that the selection for Oregon Reads 2009, the year of this state’s sesquicentennial, is Stubborn Twig (now reprinted by OSU Press and available all over the state). Kessler’s Oregon Book Award-winning reconstruction of the tale of successful and prosperous immigrants — and how their lives were nearly destroyed by Executive Order 9066 — is a superb choice, covering state history and national history in the tale of one complex, courageous family. 

Oregon Read’s two choices for younger readers are also fabulous: the moving and fascinating Bat 6 by Oregon City’s Virginia Euwer Wolff for tweens and younger teens, and Deborah Hopkinson’s lively, smart Apples to Oregon for the kiddos. 

Lauren Kessler reads from Stubborn Twig at 6 pm Friday, Feb. 6, at the Eugene Public Library.