World War One is in high gear. Fourteen-year-old Khya Terada moves with her family to a remote, misty inlet on Haida Gwaii, then the Queen Charlotte Islands, in northern British Columbia, known for its Sitka spruces. The Canadian government has passed an act to expedite logging of these majestic trees, desperately needed for the Allies’ aircrafts in Europe. At a camp on the inlet, Khya’s father, Sannosuke—a talented, daring logger with twenty years of experience since immigrating from Japan—assumes a position of leadership among the Japanese and Chinese workers.
But the arrival of a group of white loggers, eager to assert their authority, throws off balance the precarious life that Khya and her family have begun to establish. When a quarrel between Sannosuke and a white man known as “the Captain” escalates, leading to the betrayal of her older sister, Izzy, and humiliation for the family, Khya embarks on a perilous journey with her one friend—a half-Chinese sex worker, on the lam for her own reasons—to track down the man and force him to take responsibility. Yet nothing in the forest is as it appears. Can they save Izzy from ruination and find justice without condemning her to a life of danger, or exposing themselves to the violence of an angry, power-hungry man?
Drawing on inspiration from her ancestors’ stories and experiences, Shimotakahara weaves an entrancing tale of female adventure, friendship, and survival.
About the author
Leslie Shimotakahara Bio
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and ”recovering academic,“ who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard- pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got lured into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006, writing her dissertation on regionalist and modernist aesthetics in a record two years. After graduation, she got a job at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, where she taught until 2008. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the ivory tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. Since returning to Toronto, Leslie has worked in a range of communications positions for the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, Deployment forDemocratic Development, and presently at Waterfront Toronto. Over the past year, Leslie was selected as an Emerging Writer in the Diaspora Dialogues program, and invited to give a reading at The Word On The Street. An excerpt from The Reading List manuscript has been published in the anthology TOK: Writing the New City (volume 5). Back in her former life as an English professor, she published a smattering of essays on American modernism in obscure, critical theory journals (but these are best resigned to the annals of dry academe).These days, Leslie is more engaged in writing for her blog, www.the-reading-list.com, and rereading for inspiration the stories she wrote as a kid and self-published in pretty, Crayola-designed covers.
“Sisters of the Spruce is a captivating tale of Asian female bonds forged in the wilds of British Columbia’s Haida Gwaii (then known as the Queen Charlotte Islands). Drawing on family lore as well as historical research, Shimotakahara has channelled her grandmother’s spirit to create a fearless and plucky heroine and to shed light on the little-known story of Japanese Canadians who laboured in the northern logging industry over a century ago. Fast-paced and filled with unexpected twists and intrigue, Sisters of the Spruce is a refreshing new take on the adventure story, unlike anything you have read before.”
—Lynne Kutsukake, author of The Translation of Love
“One of the most original and gripping novels I’ve read in a long time. Set in the years after the Great War, Sisters of the Spruce pitches the reader into the harsh life of a logging camp, where Japanese-Canadian teenager Khya Terada risks the dangers of the BC wilderness and the even greater dangers of civilized society to seek justice for her sister and a new life for her friend Daisy. Leslie Shimotakahara has created an unforgettable heroine.”
—Janie Chang, Globe and Mail bestselling author of The Porcelain Moon and The Library of Legends
“Set a century ago in the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii), Leslie Shimotakahara’s Sisters of the Spruce tells the story of a teenage Japanese-Canadian girl, Khya, and her struggle for justice and survival in the brutal, largely male world of the lumber camps. Much like Huckleberry Finn, Khya encounters a succession of strange, often unsavoury characters on her trek; unlike the slightly younger Huck, she ultimately finds romance as well as adventure. Aided by extensive research and family documents, Shimotakahara brings to vivid life a largely forgotten chapter in Canadian history, when Chinese, Japanese and Indigenous peoples joined with White settlers to build the wooden warplanes that helped win the First World War.”
—Ted Goossen, translator, editor of The Oxford Book of Japanese Short Stories and co-editor of MONKEY: New Writing from Japan
“Set during World War I in British Columbia's logging camps, where giant spruces were felled for the Allied airplanes, Sisters of the Spruce celebrates survival and sisterhood. Japanese-Canadian Khya Terada embarks on a dangerous journey to save her sister, as their family disintegrates under the pressure of the camp’s ethnic conflicts. Rich historical detail and complex characters fuel this glorious adventure story.”
—Diane Terrana, author of The World on Either Side
“Thanks to Shimotakahara’s accurate and spiritually sensitive writing, I was right there in the wartime Canadian West with Khya. From the perspective of growing up in Japan and learning Japanese history, I was moved by the parallel history that unfolded on the other side of the Pacific. A must-read!”
—Yoko Morgenstern, author of A Perfect Day to Die