Japanese Journey

Hotaka (Through my Eyes Natural Disaster Zones #1)Hotaka by John Heffernan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first in a new series of Through My Eyes, this time focusing on natural disaster zones. Hotaka is a boy growing up in the coastal town of Omori-wan in Japan. In 2011 this town, and many others like it, fell victim to an earthquake, followed by a devastating tsunami. I can remember watching the footage of this event on television at the time and the book captures well the desperation of those who were trying to escape the wall of water and debris that flattened the town. This is just the beginning for this novel, as we then meet Hotaka and his friend Osamu a year later as the town prepares to hold a memorial concert one year after the disaster.
Hotaka is haunted by the memory of his friend, Takeshi, who did not survive the tsunami, and his friend Sakura is struggling with her own set of demons. Sakura is set on opposing a controversial sea-wall development, and her struggles threaten to endanger herself and those around her.
I found this story very engaging – the characters themselves were very sympathetic -and it was especially satisfying to read a female character who was strong, yet fragile; confident, but insecure. Sakura was fantastic to read, and I enjoyed the relationship that developed between her and Hotaka as the novel progressed. The way the children use social media to expose the issues and promote their cause was a great device, and showed how powerful things like YouTube and news blogs can be. It was also interesting to read about the struggles of real citizens to rebuild their lives after such a disaster. John Heffernan has clearly done a lot of research for this story and he has told it with care and attention to detail. There are some similarities to the plight of the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to be drawn here too.
The one objection I had was to some of the language the Japanese children used in the book. Some of what they said was a bit too “Aussie” for me – but perhaps that was to make the story a little more accessible for an Australian audience.
Even so, it’s a small quibble about what is otherwise a terrific story. I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series as it emerges.
For ages 12 and up

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