What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this is a gentle fantasy with no edgy influences. There's a lot of descriptive language and Japanese history embedded in the story, which may be new for many readers. The riddle and clues are not easily discernable, and at times readers may have to flip pages back and forth to make sure they understand the plot.
What's the story?
12 year-old Hannah gets dragged to Japan by her boisterous mom, who is studying Japanese gardens. While her mother travels the country, Hannah stays with Japanese friends, the Maekawa family and their daughter, Miki. Hannah and Miki become best friends, and one day, while opening an old box of papers, they find a riddle that appears to be an appeal for help from the "Ocean Boy." Is this "Ocean Boy" the spirit that has been throwing donuts at Hannah and writing with sunscreen on her mirror? The girls and their friend Hiro set out to solve the riddle, traveling to markets, temples, shrines, ancient castles, and meeting people from the present and past. Can the three kids follow the ancient clues to help the Ocean Boy find his peace?
Is it any good?
This story is steeped in Japanese history, culture, climate, people, and language, and the author has a clear appreciation for the quiet beauty of that country. The story is a gentle fantasy that has its main characters going between their real lives in modern Japan to a mystical realm in which they try to help a ghost boy reunite with his family. The combination of fact and fantasy will work for some readers, yet others may find it too grounded to allow real imagination to pervade. The mood is quiet like snow and sweet as innocent friendship, yet the plot is also slightly confusing. The clues are cryptic and often uncovered by luck rather than skill. The drama of talking dragons, scary ghosts, and missing parents is somehow lost, and the emotional impact of the adventures is rather matter-of-fact. Readers with an interest in Japan and a taste for intricately woven tales will enjoy this story, but readers requiring more action and emotional involvement may want to look elsewhere.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about living in another country. What country would you want to live in and why? How might it be different than your own country? How might it be similar? Did this story inspire you to learn more about Japan?
Talk about the mystery. Were you able to understand the clues? Could you predict how some of the action would resolve? Did it end in a satisfying way for you?
Discuss the role of Hannah's mother. What did you think of her? Was she funny, irritating, adventuresome? What did you think when she arrived in town with someone special to Hiro? Was it believable?