Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Soul Lanterns

Kuzki, Shaw. Soul Lanterns
March 16th 2021 by Delacorte Press
Translated from the Japanese by Emily Balistrieri 
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Nozomi lives in the suburbs of Hiroshima in 1970. Every year, she goes with her family to a lantern lighting ceremony on the river that honors the people lost in "the flash", the bombing on August 6th. This year, she sees a woman staring at her. The woman asks how old she is (she's 12), and then how old her mother is. Nozomi knows that her father lost his first wife and two of his sisters, and her mother also lost people. One of the lanterns that her mother lights, however, has no name on it, which makes her curious. A school project on "Hiroshima Then and Now" gets Nozomi and her friends thinking about the people around them who would have lived through the bombing. Nozomi hears a story about her art teacher, Mr. Yoshioka, who lost his girlfriend, and who found only a comb he had given her after the bombing. Shun finds out more about his uncommunicative neighbor, Mrs. Sudo, who lost her husband in the war and her young son in the bombing. Kozo learns about his aunt, Sumi, who was a teacher who tried to save six of her students. The more the students delve into the past, the most they are able to appreciate the horrible human toll that the war took on those around them. Nozomi even finds out about the woman who stared at her during the lantern ceremony, and is able to settle questions about a past relationship that her mother had. Mr. Yoshioka, who is suffering from tuberculosis and spends some time in a sanatorium, helps the students process the different stories they have heard and to understand the role that Japan played in World War II as well as the lingering effects that this history had on the community. 
Strengths: This was certainly a fresh and unusual historical perspective, and I love the fact that this was originally published in Japan! Such a window into how a population dealt with a horrific historical event. Setting this book in 1970, when survivors were still plentiful but when the average twelve year old would have felt very removed from the events was excellent. Having three friends at school working on a project, and asking people around them what they remember will resonate with my readers, who are often assigned projects where they have to ask adults about 9/11 or the Challenger Disaster. I very much enjoyed this one. 
Weaknesses: There were occasionally phrases in the translation that seemed a half bubble off, but in general, this was an interesting and well done work. I would love to see more books by #ownvoices authors translated for the US middle grade market! There could have been a little more information, for US readers, about how Japan reacted to the bombings with calls for peace.
What I really think: This is an essential purchase for middle school libraries, and a fantastic addition to books about the aftermath of WWII in Japan, such as Dicicco and Sasaki's The Complete Story of Sadako Sasaki , Yep's Hiroshima, Stelson,'s Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor's Story, Burkinshaw's The Last Cherry Blossom, Smith's The Blossom and the Firefly , Napoli's In a Flash and Kadohata's A Place to Belong.

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