(Past program) Lake Forest Reads 2021

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2021 Selection

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"Sentimental, heartfelt ... A timely debut that not only reminds readers of a shameful episode in American history, but cautions us to examine the present and take heed we don't repeat those injustices." —Kirkus Reviews

"Especially relevant in today's world, this is a beautifully written book that will make you think. And, more importantly, it will make you feel." —Garth Stein, bestselling author of "The Art of Racing in the Rain"

"Jamie Ford's first novel explores the age-old conflicts between father and son, the beauty and sadness of what happened to Japanese Americans during World War II, and the depths and longing of deep-heart love." —Lisa See, bestselling author of "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan"

About the Book

In the opening pages of Jamie Ford's stunning debut novel, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle's Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.

This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry's world is a jumble of confusion and excitement, and to his father, who is obsessed with the war in China and having Henry grow up American. While "scholarshipping" at the exclusive Rainier Elementary, where the white kids ignore him, Henry meets Keiko Okabe, a young Japanese American student. Amid the chaos of blackouts, curfews, and FBI raids, Henry and Keiko forge a bond of friendship—and innocent love—that transcends the long-standing prejudices of their Old World ancestors. And after Keiko and her family are swept up in the evacuations to the internment camps, she and Henry are left only with the hope that the war will end, and that their promise to each other will be kept.

Forty years later, Henry Lee is certain that the parasol belonged to Keiko. In the hotel's dark dusty basement, he begins looking for signs of the Okabe family's belongings and for a long-lost object whose value he cannot begin to measure. Now a widower, Henry is still trying to find his voice: words that might explain the actions of his nationalistic father; words that might bridge the gap between him and his modern, Chinese American son; words that might help him confront the choices he made many years ago.

Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope. In Henry and Keiko, Jamie Ford has created an unforgettable duo whose story teaches us of the power of forgiveness and the human heart.

Go to the catalog to borrow "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" by Jamie Ford

About the Author

Jamie Ford is a Northwest author most widely known for his bestselling Seattle-based novels. His debut, "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list, won the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, and was a finalist for the Washington State Book Award, the Pacific Northwest Book Award, and the Langum Prize for Historical Fiction. It was also named the #1 Book Club pick in 2010 by the American Bookseller Association and is now read widely in schools all across the country. This multi-cultural tale was adapted by Book-It Repertory Theatre, and has recently been optioned for a stage musical, and also for film, with George Takei serving as Executive Producer.

Jamie's second book, "Songs of Willow Frost," was also a national bestseller. His third novel set in Seattle, "Love and Other Consolations Prizes," was published in 2017 and Library Journal named it one of the Best Historical Fiction Novels of 2017. An award-winning short-story writer, Jamie's work has been published in multiple anthologies, from Asian-themed steampunk set in Seattle in the "Apocalypse Triptych," to stories exploring the universe of masked marvels and caped crusaders from an Asian American perspective in "Secret Identities: The First Asian American Superhero Anthology," and "Shattered: The Asian American Comics Anthology." His essays on race, identity, love, heroes, and complex families have been published nationwide and his work has been translated into 35 languages. He says he's holding out for Klingon, because that's when you know you've made it.

Jamie is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer, Min Chung, who emigrated from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco in 1865, where he adopted the western name "Ford," thus confusing countless generations. Having grown up near Seattle's Chinatown, Jamie now lives in Montana where he's on a never-ending search for decent dim sum.

Read · Discuss · Attend

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Thank you for attending these 2021 events with us

  • Learn Origami
  • Art, Patriotism, and Internment: 1942–46
  • From Book to Film with Diane Quon
  • Hidden Memory: An American Story
  • Dr. Hu Shih, Lake Forest, and Chinese Diplomacy during WWII
  • Afternoons with Judy Levin discussion of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"
  • Dickinson Hall discussion of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet"
  • An Evening with author Jamie Ford

Writing Contest


  • Submit your typed entry by September 30, 2021, using the form below.
  • Entries must be between 2,000 and 10,000 words.
  • Entries must involve some theme from “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” (racism, friendship, Japanese or Chinese culture, etc.).


  • Your entry published on the Library’s blog and promoted on social media
  • A personalized, signed copy of “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”
  • A $50 gift card to Lake Forest Book Store
  • An invitation to a special event at Ragdale

Submit your Entry


Thank You to Our Partners

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