Meh: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and SweetHotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford  (2009)

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was surprised by how little I enjoyed reading this immensely popular bit of historical fiction. My lack of engagement had everything to do with the writing, which I found elementary and extremely lacking. As I was reading, I was editing the clunky prose in my head. Never a good sign.

The story is set in San Francisco and shifts between time periods (the 1940s and four decades later) as narrator Henry Lee tells the story of a life-changing childhood friendship. Thirteen-year-old Henry befriends a Japanese-American girl named Keiko shortly before she and her family are deported to an internment camp. Henry is Chinese-American and his father is adamantly anti-Japanese, adding further complication to Henry’s budding romance.

Overall, the author relies too heavily on stilted expository dialog which only made the already thin characters seem even more two dimensional. Everything is explained in such an elementary way I felt at times as if I was reading a book targeted at a middle school-age audience, similar to The Book Thief. (If it were, I would have been a lot more forgiving.)

Then there were the clichés and the repetitive prose. The plot may push characters into new situations but the thoughts that went through their heads remained largely the same. In addition, there wasn’t enough differentiation between Henry at 60 and Henry at 13, all of which made for a sluggish read.


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