Friday, August 19, 2011
Children's Historical Fiction: J-Boys by Shogo Oketani
Publisher: Stone Bridge Press
Translator: Avery Fischer Udagawa
Date: July 12, 2011
Acquired: from LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Read: for review (I received my copy of this book in return for an honest review)
Reading time: four days
From GoodReads: Kazuo Nakamoto's life in inner-city Tokyo is one of tea and tofu, of American TV and rock 'n' roll. Kazuo is ten. It is the mid-1960s, just after the Japan Olympics, and Kazuo dreams of being a track star. He hangs out with his buddies, goes to school, and helps with household chores. But Kazuo's world is changing. This bittersweet novel is a deft portrait of a year in a boy's life in a land and time far away, filled with universal concerns about fitting in, escaping the past (in this case World War II's lingering devastation), and growing up.
My review: J-Boys is a series of short, anecdotal stories covering Kazuo's life between the October and April of one year. Each story is basically concerned with one or two aspects of Japanese culture and Tokyo life in the 1960s: tofu, public bathhouses, education, New Year's, memories of WWII, etc. Not only is the cultural and historical information interesting, but tracing the melding of traditional Japanese culture with Western influences is fascinating as well.
While the information presented in this book is interesting, the plot is not, mostly because with the short stories there is little cohesion between the chapters besides the same setting and characters. Only one story really stood out to me: "Kazuo's Typical Tokyo Saturday," where Kazuo notes the inevitable changes to the city and its culture as it faces the passage of time and incursion of new influences. I think that J-Boys would probably be much more enjoyable as a read-aloud between parents and their children or teachers and young students, reading a story or two a day instead of attempting to plow through the book like it's a novel as older readers (myself included) have a tendency to do.