Tim Wynne-Jones’ latest work The Emperor of Any Place, has popped up on a lot of recommendation lists recently. It is one of YALSA’s 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults, is one of School Library Journal’s best books of 2015, and is on Horn Books fanfare list. Any Place has a great deal to recommend it and, like many works with an historic element, has the potential to awaken a desire to learn more in its readers.
In Any Place Wynne-Jones delves into such topics as the Pacific Theater in World War II, the mythology of Japan, the experience of that war from the viewpoint of both Japanese and American soldiers, and relationships ranging from those of enemies in battle to beloved family members. It will appeal to those with an interest in history, as well to those who enjoy both realistic dramas, mysteries, and magic realism.
The Emperor of Any Place tells the story of a 16-year-old boy named Evan whose father has very unexpectedly passed away. With little other choice, he contacts his estranged grandfather for help. At the same time he discovers a copy of the diary of a Japanese soldier stranded on a mysterious island in the Pacific during WWII, which Evan’s father was reading just before his death. The diary’s prologue, as well as some of Evan’s father’s last words, hint that his grandfather may have played a sinister role in the author’s life. Evan makes the decision to hide the diary and read it in secret while at the same time clashing dramatically with his militaristic grandfather and dealing with his grief.
The vivid and exciting diary that comprises at least half of the novel grabs a reader’s attention and makes them wonder about what is happening beyond the purview of the story. Was the battle of Tinian really as it was described? Did Japanese civilians and soldiers really believe that the Americans would commit horrible acts of savagery, such as eating babies? And are the strange and terrible creatures that haunt the island made up just for this novel, or do they have a basis in Japanese mythology?
To answer these questions, readers may consult a number of non-fiction resources that can help to answer these questions and more. While the uniqueness of the story makes it hard to find solid read-alikes, I have also included a few fiction novels that might be good follow-ups for fans of Wynne-Jones’ compelling story.
Non-Fiction Resources on WWII in the Pacific
More than half of Any Place is composed of diary accounts of the lives of Isamu Oshiro and Derwood Kraft, both of whom are stranded on the same island in the Marianas. For those students who fall in love with this more personal and individual approach to history, there are a number of other accounts, both in print and available online, with which they might like to follow up.