During World War II, xenophobia peaks as Japanese Americans are interned in Western US states. George Yano and his mother, sister, and brothers succumb to this fear: they are forced to abandon their farmland in Central Washington and must relocate to a Portland, Oregon assembly center. While the Yanos scrabble for normalcy-pickup baseball games for the boys, homey touches in the family's cramped private quarters-George becomes a recruiter of Japanese ancestry workers for Eastern Oregon's sugar beet fields. While George charts a course for the Yanos through financial ruin, racism, and hardship, Molly Mita does the same for her family. As Molly and George grow closer, so too do their families.
In a rich novel spanning Portland's assembly center, farming communities in Eastern Oregon, and internment camps like Minidoka in Idaho, A Shrug of the Shoulders renders the Yanos' and Mitas' lives with care, hope, and historical fidelity. Through multiple points of view and dozens of vivid settings, author Elaine Cockrell creates a mosaic of Japanese-American perseverance: one tiled with humor, frustration, despair, anger, and love.