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Book Club Check-in: Jamie Ford is a heartbreaker

caption: The KUOW Book Club is kicking off with Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." Photos courtesy of Canva.
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The KUOW Book Club is kicking off with Jamie Ford's "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet." Photos courtesy of Canva.
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Jamie Ford doesn’t need me to tell him he's an exceptional writer, but I sure would like to have a word with him about his talent for setting a pleasant mood – and killing it in brutal fashion.

Welcome to our second check-in with KUOW's book club as we read Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. I’m your club guide Katie Campbell, and I have a bone to pick with this author.

There's so much to discuss from this section of the book. (If you're reading along, you should have read through the chapter titled "Better Them Than Us." You can find the reading schedule here.) But it's the final two chapters, "Parents" and "Better Them Than Us," that change the trajectory of the book and the characters' lives.

RELATED: Book Club Check-in: Time's role in 'Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet' by Jamie Ford

In "Parents," Ford sets the table, quite literally, as Henry meets Keiko's family for lunch. It’s a lovely scene, one in which Keiko's family embraces Henry. It isn’t long before the scene is ruined.

Reality strikes as Japanese American families in Seattle are forced out of their homes, a reality our young Henry could not imagine earlier in this section of the book. The drama comes to a head as Henry tries to save Keiko.

I read and reread Henry’s fight with Chaz at the station, a distraction to get his stolen “I am Chinese” button back from the bully. I, like most readers I imagine, knew then what he was going to try to do. It was devastating.

Let’s read that bit from page 135 together:

Keiko wrapped her arms around him and whispered in his ear, “I won’t forget you. She pinned the button reading “I am Chinese” to the inside cover of her diary, holding it close. “I’ll be here.” Henry watched them board the train, herded in with dozens of other families. Soldiers with white gloves, batons in hand, blew whistles and pointed as the doors closed. Henry lingered at the edge of the boarding area, waving good-bye as they pulled away from the station, disappearing from sight. He wiped warm tears from his cheeks, his sadness diluted by the sea of families waiting for the next train. Hundreds of families. Thousands. 2019 PAPERBACK EDITION, PAGE 135

At this point, an obvious but important question about the future is on my mind: Where is Keiko now, and why isn't she with Henry?

If you're reading along with the book club, send me your predictions. And if you haven't started reading yet, there's still time to catch up. Read through the chapter titled "Thirteen" by May 6.

RELATED: Get to know the Pacific Northwest with KUOW’s new book club

In the meantime, send me your thoughts and questions as you read. I'll share them in our next check-in (on May 6) and in our newsletter, where you'll also find more of my thoughts.

Subscribe to the newsletter here, and email me your own analysis at

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