Review based on advanced reader copy received from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
What I think I enjoyed most about this book is the imagination that went into it. This is something I would like to recommend to my friends' children (only because I don't yet have my own!) because it's smart and thoughtful and ultimately has a good message without feeling preachy.
Saki (middle-grade) is forced to spend several days during her precious summer vacation in the village where her grandmother lives, preparing for the annual Obon ceremony (honoring the dead), rather than with her friends in her big-city Tokyo. She is, as expected, sullen about the retreat, spending the time with her family, and being without good signal on her cell phone. Looking for any way to have some real fun during this antiquated ritual time, Saki agrees to go with several local kids (typical troublemakers) to her family's property and dishonors it in an attempt to prove both her bravery and her coolness. Saki unknowingly invokes a death curse and opens the door to the spiritual world.
In the nights that follow -- the nights of the Night Parade -- Saki is guided by various spirits, meets good and evil spirits, and learns a lot about the village, the importance of the rituals and honor, and herself.
I thought Saki was written beautifully. She is a complex character, accurately depicting that pre-teen/teen angst, apathy, anger, care, and innocence all at once. She is frustrating and endearing and ultimately tries to do the right thing. I like that the path was not easy, that things were not always what they seemed, and that little efforts made big differences, both good and bad.
The book is pretty and soft and gentle, while addressing big and hard and deep issues. It is not fast paced, but it is steady and consistent throughout. And, as I said, ultimately, I think the things that Saki learns throughout her experiences in the book are great things. And I think the book pulls off an impressive feat by merging Japanese legends, universal truths, and difficult physical and emotion lessons with a beautiful, creative, and imaginative background, populated by a unique array of friends and foes.
I would definitely recommend (and give!) to smart middle and high schoolers open to something beautiful and thought provoking, and to anyone looking for the same!
(and a beautiful cover to boot!)
FOUR of five stars.