“A Diamond in the Desert” follows Japanese-American Tetsu, a twelve-year-old boy who was forced with his family to live in the Gila River internment camp during World War II. From that one sentence synopsis, it’s clear that “Diamond” is a work of historical fiction, but as you read about Tetsu’s experiences in this desolate desert camp, the story feels more dystopian. The barracks that Tetsu and other Japanese-Americans have to live in, the unending presence of dust seeping into each and every crevice possible, not just in buildings but on human bodies, and the weakened morale of all the camp’s inhabitants make it seem as if some massive apocalyptic event has occurred and the residents of Gila River are the only survivors trying to find a way to hold on to hope. Even though it’s made clear all along that this is mid-twentieth century America, it’s mind blowing at the end of the book to actually think that the U.S. government forced people to live in these conditions for years. It’s at that moment when you realize you’ve read historical fiction, and have actually learned a lesson about American history. This dystopian guise for historical fiction is perfect for Middle Grade readers, especially boys, who drag their feet when they think they’re being forced to learn.
Helping that connection with boys even further is the emphasis on baseball, Tetsu’s passion and the only thing that keeps him going when he and some neighbors decide to build a baseball diamond just outside of camp. Fitzmaurice’s description of the exhilaration Tetsu feels while playing baseball makes readers connect with the sport, regardless of whether or not you’re like me and have zero hand-eye coordination or can’t throw a ball worth a darn! I felt like I was standing on this makeshift baseball diamond myself, feeling the heat of the desert sun beat down on my back as I stood at home plate ready to bat. Baseball becomes not just the camp residents’ only hope for the day when they would all finally be released, but the readers’ as well, becoming a part of every single game Tetsu and his teammates play as camp life drags on.
I’m outrageously impressed with how different all of Fitzmaurice’s books are, yet how they each leave me feeling inspired and ready to take on life. “A Diamond in the Desert” is no exception, and is a diamond in its own right.
Very relatable male protagonist for reluctant boy readers.
Baseball scenes that get you into the sport even if you have no history with it.