The title of Dean Hughes’s latest YA novel about World War II refers to the US 442nd Regimental Combat Team. Fighting the Germans in Europe, this unit became the most decorated troop in the history of American warfare. Such recognition measures the 4-4-2’s military efficacy and inferentially honors its ability to sustain enormous casualties. What frames the story of its warriors’ gallantry is the startling—even ironic—fact that the team was composed almost entirely of young men of Japanese ancestry.
That reality is the author’s fictional fulcrum. In 1942, the novel’s protagonist, 18-year-old “Yuki” Nakahara, became by governmental edict an “enemy alien” evicted from his family’s California farm and incarcerated in an internment camp in Utah. Anxious to prove his Americanism (especially since his innocent father had been arrested as a spy), he not only enlists in the US Army but also encourages his best friend to accompany him on what proves, for his compatriot, a fatal journey.
Hughes deftly—if too delicately—parses the gore of war through Yuki’s eyes. Young readers who follow Yuki’s journey will learn about prejudice and patriotism, duty and dirty work, caring and killing. The author’s preface is a superb historical introduction into the novel’s narrative. As a moral tale about immigration restriction, racism, and “white nationalism,” the novel is accidentally, if providentially, timely.