Friday, July 16, 2021

Temple Alley Summer

Kashiwaba, Sachiko, Satake, Miho(Illus.), Udagawa, Avery (Trans.)
Temple Alley Summer 
July 6th 2021 by Restless Books 
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Kazu is very interested when he sees his neighborhood on an antique map, and intrigued that it is labled "Temple Alley", especially when the name of the temple is Kimyo, which can be translated "back from the dead". When a new girl, Akari, appears in his school, the mystery deepens. He sees her come out of his house, and while he doesn't remember her, everyone else seems to. Not only that, but her mother seems to be invisible! He decides to do his summer project on the temple, instead of having his mother help him grow tomatoes, and is soon asking around the neighborhood to see if anyone around his recently deceased grandfather's age might know anything. Ms. Minakami is very helpful at first, but when Kazu asks his uncle about their home's relationship to the temple, he finds out that Ms. Minakami might have stolen a family heirloom. Ms. Ando is also helpful, and it seems likely that Akari is her daughter, who was ill for a long time and died 40 years ago. Akari acknowledges that she has come back from the dead, but doesn't remember much of her past, except for a story in a girls' magazine called Daisy. After trying to locate the magazine for his new friend, Kazu asks Ms. Ando if she has the magazines. She does, and Kazu is enthralled by the same story, The Moon on the Left. This story is printed in the book. It ends abruptly, and Kazu tries to find the rest of it. This leads him to some unexpected places. Will Kazu's investigations lead to his family's ties to the temple being used to resurrect more people? Or will it effectively end the existence of those who have already come back?
Strengths: This is a very gentle ghost story that brings in snippets of Japanese religion and culture, daily life, and an interesting connection to a story. Kazu is just an ordinary boy who finds himself in an odd circumstance, and he does his best to investigate and understand it. I loved the little funny things, like his mother being so irritated that the men from the neighborhood association visit and that she has to make lunch for Kazu during the summer. (And that ramen is the quick, go-to lunch, instead of a peanut butter sandwich!) There are some good friend connections, especially with Akari. I especially loved the depiction of Daisy magazine and the young writer whom Kazu manages to track down. I have to admit to trying to see a similar neighborhood on Google Earth, because I wanted to see where Kazu lived! The illustrations reminded me, somewhat oddly, of Meindert de Jong. 
Weaknesses: Early on, the translation seems a bit rocky, but it improves. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to translate an entire book. The ending seems a bit abrupt.
What I really think: It's great that we are starting to see a number of books being published in the US that are written by writers from other countries. Kashiwaba is a well known Japanese children's author, and recently we've seen Kuzki's Soul Lanterns, Brown's While I Was AwayKadono's Kiki's Delivery Service, Kamata's Pop Flies, Robo-Pets, and Other Disasters that are written by Japanese authors or US authors who have lived in Japan. 

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