Saturday, July 9, 2016

Another Great Review...4/4

This review is of Book One: Coming Home, from onlinebookclub.  The reviews for Book 3 haven't started coming in yet.  I think they'll continue to be DARNED GOOD.  Please do read.

What a charming children's book! The book wasn't what I expected it to be. It was much better! By the time I had finished the first chapter I knew for certain that it would be an amazing read. And I was right! This book is a thrilling adventure ride incorporating fantasy, folklore, historical tidbits, politics, dual-natured beings, quests, and much more besides.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy by Claire Youmans is the first in a series featuring two unique kids, Azuki and her brother Shota. And I do mean unique! Both kids can turn into birds, imagine that! While Shota, the sparrow boy, is impetuous, curios, and resourceful, Azuki, the Toki-girl, is brave, adventurous, and determined. The two complement each other splendidly. Set in a fantasy version of Meiji-era Japan, the story follows their trials, adventures, and mishaps amidst all the changes and chaos Japan experienced as her gates were opened to the rest of the world.

There are two main plot lines which overlap in interesting and surprising ways. Azuki and Shota's story is one. The two kids-birds live peacefully with their adopted human parents in a small district on the southern island of Kyushu. Their lives take a turn for the worse when an evil feudal overlord kidnaps Azuki for the beautiful feathers she sheds. Azuki manages to break free, but what a girl-bird to do? Desperate and hurt, she decides to look for her Toki-kin. Shota has a quest of his own. He has to bring his sister back home before the year is over, or they will lose their human identities. They need to be able to live as both human and bird, in order to truly be themselves. Along the way they both meet colorful new friends and learn valuable lessons about their self-worth.

The second plot line involves another set of protagonists, Anko and Benjamin. Amidst the suspense and adventure there is also the gentlest touch of youthful romance between the Japanese girl and the young American naval officer. Their budding relationship serves best to emphasise the differences between the two cultures. The cultural barriers between the two are well conveyed.

The book revolves around the four main characters and colourful cast of side characters. The various threads complement each other and add a complexity and interest to the story. The author’s intricate weaving of the different characters' points of view is well done. With a story told from multiple points of view, a well-constructed world, likable protagonists, and an enthralling narrative, we have an enchanting tale. The story was quite original and it had me curious about what would happen next. It does take a dark turn (two murders) and the ending is a bit too abrupt, but those are its only faults.

The plot and the world-building surrounding this story were quite interesting and all the elements in the story flow together seamlessly. It is a beautifully written book that captures the imagination of the reader from the first and the perfect middle grade novel. Even though it’s geared towards young readers, as an adult I was able to fully immerse myself into the fantastically created realm. The writing style is easy to understand, but by no means simplistic.

The author takes what could have been a straightforward tale, and turns it into something more - a lesson in self-discovery and acceptance of one's nature. Children will find the characters easy to identify with, and will learn important life lessons along the way. The book combines an adventure story with themes of self-worth, loyalty, friendship, love, and courage while emphasizing qualities such as compassion, empathy and kindness. Each chapter opens with lovely illustrations (black and white on my kindle) which were done by young artists. Hurray to them!

It was a fun read from start to finish, so I rate it 4 out of 4 stars. I enjoyed the book and loved the concept of dual-natured beings. I am definitely looking forward to reading more in the series. I would recommend the book to middle grade kids and up and to anyone who loves unique fairy tales and fantasy adventure. The author created a very imaginative tale that children and parents alike will want to read over and over again.


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