WHITTIER – Before her teacher assigned her to read the book “Farewell to Manzanar,” Sierra Vista High junior Alyssa Leon knew nothing about Manzanar. She’d never heard of the controversial episode in American history during World War II that resulted in the internment of thousands of people of Japanese descent at Manzanar, a camp on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevadas in scenic Owens Valley. The book was difficult to read, Leon said, simply because it seemed unbelievable to her that something like that could happen in the United States. But Friday, she emerged from her writing class inspired by a visit from Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston, who wrote “Farewell to Manzanar” with her husband, based on her memoirs as a child who lived at the internment camp for more than three years. “She’s so brave,” said Leon, 16. “The fact that she had the guts to write about it was amazing. She was just incredible and I was really looking forward to meeting her.” The visit to Leon’s class was Houston’s final appearance this week at local schools as part of the “Whittier Reads: One Book, One Whittier” campaign organized by the public library and sponsored in part by the Rose Hills Foundation and the Whittier Cultural Arts Foundation. The campaign began Feb. 4 with a “marathon read” at the library, as well as book discussions, film showings and origami demonstrations throughout the month. The grand finale takes place today with a daylong bus trip to Manzanar, now a national historic site. At Sierra Vista, Houston told students that the reason she wrote the book was for her family – for the dozens of nieces and nephews who knew their parents and grandparents had been sent to Manzanar but were largely ignorant of what happened there and why. When her nephew asked her pointed questions about what it was like to be taken away from her life and imprisoned, she broke down sobbing and became hysterical. “I finally allowed myself to feel and I broke into tears,” Houston said. “And I told him, `Well, it seems I can’t talk about this, but I will write something about it for you, for all of you.”‘ That her book would prompt a film and become required reading at schools was beyond her imagination, Houston said. She encouraged the students to write on their own, in journals that no one ever has to see. “You can turn some of your worst moments into money, as strange as it sounds,” she said. “But that’s only if you can rise above it and heal from it.” [email protected] (562) 698-0955, Ext. 3051 AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORECasino Insider: Here’s a look at San Manuel’s new high limit rooms, Asian restaurant160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!