In this poignant and evocative novel by acclaimed author Kristina McMorris, a country is plunged into conflict and suspicion—forcing a young woman to find her place in a volatile world.
Los Angeles, 1941. Violinist Maddie Kern’s life seemed destined to unfold with the predictable elegance of a Bach concerto. Then she fell in love with Lane Moritomo. Her brother’s best friend, Lane is the handsome, ambitious son of Japanese immigrants. Maddie was prepared for disapproval from their families, but when Pearl Harbor is bombed the day after she and Lane elope, the full force of their decision becomes apparent. In the eyes of a fearful nation, Lane is no longer just an outsider, but an enemy.
When her husband is interned at a war relocation camp, Maddie follows, sacrificing her Juilliard ambitions. Behind barbed wire, tension simmers and the line between patriot and traitor blurs. As Maddie strives for the hard-won acceptance of her new family, Lane risks everything to prove his allegiance to America, at tremendous cost.
Skillfully capturing one of the most controversial episodes in recent American history, Kristina McMorris draws readers into a novel filled with triumphs and heartbreaking loss—an authentic, moving testament to love, forgiveness, and the enduring music of the human spirit.
"Impeccably researched and beautifully written.” --Karen White, New York Times bestselling author
Los Angeles, California
At the sound of her brother’s voice, flutters of joy turned to
panic in Maddie Kern. “Cripes,” she whispered, perched on
her vanity seat. “What’s he doing home?”
Jo Allister, her closest girlfriend and trusted lookout, cracked
open the bedroom door. She peeked into the hall as TJ hollered
again from downstairs.
“Maddie! You here?”
It was six o’clock on a Friday. He should have been at his campus
job all night. If he knew who was about to pick her up for a
date . . .
She didn’t want to imagine what he would do.
Maddie scanned the room, seeking a solution amidst her tidy
collection of belongings—framed family photos on the bureau, her
posters of the New York Symphony, of Verdi’s Aida at the Philharmonic.
But even her violin case, which she’d defended from years
of dings and scratches, seemed to shake its head from the corner
and say, Six months of sneaking around and you’re surprised this
Jo closed the door without a click and pressed her back against
the knob. “Want me to keep him out?” Her pale lips angled with
mischief. Despite the full look of her figure, thanks to her baggy hardware store uniform, she was no match for TJ’s strength. Only
“My brother seeing me isn’t the problem,” Maddie reminded
her. She glanced at the clock on her nightstand, and found cause
for remaining calm. “Lane shouldn’t be here for another twelve
minutes. If I can just—”
The faint sound of an engine drove through the thought and
parked on her words. Had he shown up early? She raced to the
window, where she swatted away her childhood drapes. She threw
the pane upward and craned her neck. Around the abandoned remains
of her father’s Ford, she made out a wedge of the street. No
sign of Lane’s car. She still had time.
“Hey, Rapunzel,” Jo said. “You haven’t turned batty enough to
scale walls for a fella, have you?”
Maddie shushed her, interrupted by creaks of footfalls on the
staircase. “You have to do it,” she decided.
Warn Lane, Maddie was about to say, but realized she needed to
talk to him herself, in order to set plans to meet later that night.
Come tomorrow, he’d be on a train back to Stanford.
She amended her reply. “You’ve got to distract TJ for me.”
Jo let out a sharp laugh. Pushing out her chest, she tossed back
stragglers from her ash-brown ponytail. “What, with all my stylish
locks and hefty bosom?” Then she muttered, “Although, based on
his past girlfriends, I suppose that’s all it would take.”
“No, I mean—you both love baseball. Chat about that.”
Jo raised a brow at her.
“Please,” Maddie begged. “You came by to help me get ready,
didn’t you? So, help me.”
“Why not just tell him and get it over with?”
“Because you know how he feels about my dating.” A distraction
from her future, he called it. The same theory he applied to his
“Maddie. This isn’t just about any guy.”
“I know, I know, and I’ll come clean. But not yet.”
A knuckle-rap sounded on her door. “You in there?”
She sang out, “Hold on a minute,” and met Jo’s eyes. “Please.”
Jo hesitated before releasing a sigh that said Maddie would owe
her one. A big one.
“I’ll come right back,” Maddie promised, “once I head Lane off
down the block.”
After a grumble, Jo pasted on a smile, wide enough for a dentist’s
exam, and flung open the door. “TJ,” she exclaimed, “how
’bout that streak of DiMaggio’s, huh?”
Behind his umber bangs, his forehead creased in puzzlement.
“Uh, yeah. That was . . . somethin’.” His hand hung from a loop of
his cuffed jeans. Nearly four years of wash and wear had frayed the
patch on his USC Baseball sweatshirt. Its vibrancy had long ago
faded, just like TJ’s.
Diverting from Jo’s unsubtle approach, Maddie asked him,
“Didn’t you have to work tonight?”
“I was supposed to, but Jimmy needed to switch shifts this
weekend.” His cobalt gaze suddenly narrowed and gripped hers.
“You going somewhere special?”
“What?” She softly cleared her throat before thinking to glance
down at her flared navy dress, her matching strappy heels. She recalled
the pin curls in her auburn, shoulder-length do. The ensemble
didn’t spell out a casual trip to a picture show.
Jo swiftly interjected, “There’s a new hot jazz band playing at
the Dunbar. They say Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday might
even be there. I’m dragging Maddie along. A keen study in music.
You know, for her big audition.”
“I thought you were practicing tonight,” he said to Maddie.
“I am—I will. After we get back.”
“You two going alone?”
“We’ll be fine.” As everything would be, if he’d let up long
“All right,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ll just grab
a bite in the kitchen then come along.”
Maddie stifled a gasp. “No, really. You don’t have to.”
“At the Dunbar? Oh yeah I do.”
Criminy. Was he going to hold her hand as they crossed the
street to reach the bus stop too?
“TJ, this is ridiculous. I’m nineteen years old. Dad used to let us
go out all the—”
He lashed back with a fistful of words. “Well, Dad’s gone, and
I’m not him. You don’t like the deal, you can stay home.”
Stunned, Maddie stared at him. He’d spoken the word gone as
though their father had died along with their mother.
Jo waved her hands, shooing away the tension. “So it’s settled.
We’ll all go together.” Maddie widened her eyes as Jo continued,
“And hey, while he’s eating, you’ll have time to drop off your neighbor’s
letter. The one the postman delivered by accident.”
The letter . . .?
Confusion quickly gave way to disappointment. Maddie now
had an excuse to sneak out, but only to cancel rather than delay her
date with Lane. She hated the prospect of missing one of his rare
visits from school.
On the upside, in two weeks he would be back for winter break,
offering more opportunities for quality time together.
“Fine, then,” she snipped at her brother. “Come if you want.”
What other choice did she have?
While Jo bombarded TJ with questions about the World Series,
Maddie strode down the hall. Her urge to sprint mounted as she
recalled the time. She made it as far as the bottom step when the
“I’ll get it!” She rushed to the entry. Hoping to prevent the disaster
from worsening, she opened the door only halfway. Yet at the
greeting of Lane’s perfect white smile, all her worries evaporated
like mist. The warm glow of the portico light caressed his short
black hair and olive skin. Shadows swooped softly from his high
cheekbones. His almond-shaped eyes, inherited from his Japanese
ancestors, shone with the same deep brown that had reached out
and captured her heart the first time he’d held her last spring, an
innocent embrace that had spiraled into more.
“Hi, Maddie,” he said, and handed her a bouquet of lavender
lilies. Their aroma was divine, nearly hypnotic, just like his voice.
But then footsteps on the stairs behind her sobered her senses.
“You have to go,” was all she got out before TJ called to him.
“Tomo!” It was the nickname he’d given Lane Moritomo when
they were kids. “You didn’t tell me you were coming home.”
The startle in Lane’s eyes deftly vanished as his best friend approached.
Maddie edged herself aside. Her heart thudded in the drum of
her chest as she watched Lane greet him with a swift hug. A genuine
grin lit TJ’s face, a rare glimpse of the brother she missed.
“I’m only in till tomorrow,” Lane told him. “Then it’s straight
back for classes.” Though several inches shorter than TJ, he emitted
a power in his presence, highlighted by his tailored black suit.
“Term’s almost over,” TJ remarked. “What brought you back?”
“There was a funeral this afternoon. Had to go with my family.”
Surprisingly, TJ’s expression didn’t tense at the grim topic. Then
again, Lane always did have the ability—even after the accident—
to settle him when no one else could. “Anyone I know?”
“No, no. Just the old geezer who ran the bank before my dad.
Came away with some nice flowers at least.” Lane gestured to the
lilies Maddie had forgotten were in her grip. “Priest said they didn’t
have space for them all.”
TJ brushed over the gift with a mere glance. “I was gonna take
the girls to some jazz joint. Any chance you wanna come?”
“Sure. I’d love to,” he said, not catching the objection in Maddie’s
Her gaze darted to the top of the staircase, seeking help. There,
she found Jo leaning against the rail with a look that said, Ah, well,
things could be worse.
And she was right. Before the night was over, things could get
much, much worse.
1. The title Bridge of Scarlet Leaves was inspired by an ancient
haiku. Describe the symbolism of leaves in the story and
possible reasons they would be scarlet. What thoughts
and/or emotions did the opening poem (by Deanna
Nikaido) evoke both before and after you read the book?
2. Bridge conveys a variety of meanings in McMorris’s novel,
many of which relate to connecting hearts, people, and cultures.
How did each major character fulfill the role of a
bridge? Who or what do you view as the most significant
bridge in the story?
3. In the 1940s, interracial marriage was illegal in more than
thirty American states. Given expectations placed on Caucasian
females during this conservative era, how do you feel
about Maddie’s hesitation early in her relationship with
Lane? Would you have made the same daring choices that
she did over the course of the war?
4. Several of the characters’ lives often parallel throughout the
story. Discuss such instances found in TJ’s military training
and tour, Lane’s and Maddie’s Manzanar experiences, Mrs.
Duchovny’s tragedy, and Dopey’s assignment to the POW
5. While working at the camo-net factory, Lane ponders the
irony: “Here they were, unjustly imprisoned by their own
country, contributing to the fight for freedom and democracy.”
In Lane’s situation, would you have enlisted in the
U.S. military? If drafted, would you have refused to serve?
6. Japanese honor is a major element in the book, as exemplified
by Lane’s confrontation with the so¯ cho¯ , Happy’s ceremonial
sacrifice, and the Japanese Americans’ general compliance
to evacuate. One could say it’s a privilege lost by
standing out from the group. Discuss how the concept of
honor—as a burden versus a reward—contrasts between the
Japanese and American cultures.
7. The final scene of Maddie sitting at her vanity creates an
echo of the book’s opening scene, her reflection having
vastly changed. In fact, every character experienced a
tremendous amount of growth. Of them all, who do you believe
transformed the most? Whose journey was your favorite?
8. A great number of historical facts and events, along with
cultural tidbits, are woven through the pages. What was the
most surprising or intriguing piece of information you
9. Translations of the names Suzume and Orochi are included
in the story. Other names that bear meaning are: Tomo
(“friend”), Takeshi (“warrior”), Kumiko (“longtime beautiful
child”), Nobu (“faith”), and Kensho (“self-realization,
awakening”). To what extent do these names fit the characters?
10. Often the key to empathy lies in uncovering traumatic
events that have shaped another person’s life. Did your impression
of Kumiko change once she revealed her past?
Have you ever encountered a similar situation in which a
discovery altered your perspective of a person?
11. At what point in the story do you believe Lane and Maddie’s
relationship truly became love? Do you believe Maddie regrets
her choices? Reflecting on your own life, if you had
foreseen the path ahead, would you have made the same decisions?
Are you glad you didn’t know beforehand?
12. In writing, Lane explains to Maddie that he had asked
Dewey to throw away a previous letter. How do you think
the discarded message differed from the one Lane ultimately
13. Do you wish the story had ended differently for any of the
characters? If so, how would that have affected the growth
of the others? How do you feel about Dopey’s decision after
the war? Do you agree with Maddie’s choice of placing a
keepsake on the floating lantern?
14. Adhering to Kumiko’s superstitions, the book is divided into seven parts to incite good fortune, just as the following
bonus question effectively prevents this list from ending on
#13: Which two minor characters from McMorris’s debut
novel, Letters from Home, make a cameo in Bridge of Scarlet