I was given a generous gift of maybe two dozen sets of novels (numbering about a half dozen each) from a school that was just throwing them away. One set I acquired was a non-fiction book by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston entitled Farwell to Manzanar. I was giving my students the choice between two novels, but two of my stronger readers had read both of them. I added this non-fiction work as a third choice--seven students took me up on this one.
What I liked: I was pretty ignorant about America's Japanese internment camps during WWII. I did an extremely small amount of research after I finished the book. See the following links for a couple of the many, MANY resources about this topic: Farewell to Manzanar or Smithsonian Letters or Digital History. I should have given my students a class period (or at least a partial class period) to do some background research.
What I did not like: I could not make connections with the people in the novel. It just felt flat. My students who read it did not find interest in this novel, either. Most ranked it their least favorite read of the year.
In defense of the book--this was a more independent novel study in small groups. I did not do the novel preview any justice. I did not lead discussions on this novel (the students read and discussed in small groups). I found a "reading packet" on an on-line databank that I use. (Given the last minute nature of adding this book, I finished it only one day before the students began. Bad teacher!)
What good DID come out of this "experiment"? I gave this group of students an option of taking a traditional test (short-answer, multiple choice, etc.) or writing a two page paper on the internment camps. Two of the seven students chose the latter. The one student used his research to springboard him into volunteering with his father for The Honor Flight--a non-profit group who flies WWII and Korean War veterans for free out to Washington, D.C. to view the monuments.