Summary via Goodreads:
In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.
Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.
Why I Read It: I can’t remember which blog it was, but someone had written a post about their top five favorite reads of 2013, and this was on it. I checked out the summary and it sounded interesting—I love Zen Buddhism and books about Asia—so I gave it a go.
Themes/Subjects: Time, Zen Buddhism, war (particularly WWII), bullying, quantum physics, suicide, death, Japanese belief systems, philosophy
Overarching story line: 5/5 This novel is unique because not only was I reading Nao’s diary, I was looking at it through Ruth’s eyes, and I was also hearing Ruth’s story interspersed between diary entries. I loved that, although Nao started her diary with the intention of writing down her great-grandmother Jiko’s life story, she ended up writing down her own story instead, with bits and pieces of her great-grandmother’s and uncle’s stories interwoven in her own narrative. The story as a whole ended up speaking to the interconnectedness of people over time and physical space, but it wasn’t too lofty, ambitious or unrelatable. After all, at its foundation, it was the story of a high school girl being viciously bullied.
Voice/Style: 5/5 Nao’s voice in her diary entries was endearing, honest, and really kept the book “grounded.” Throughout the novel, I could hear Nao speaking, interjecting her adolescent thoughts and opinions, which were in turns immature, emotional, funny, and profound. I liked Ruth as well, with her slightly miserable, despairing-writer voice.
Characterization: 5/5 The characters in this novel are wonderful, complex people. Nao undergoes complex emotional and spiritual changes throughout the novel, aided by the unknown future reader of her diary (Ruth) and her great-grandmother Jiko. All of the main characters—Jiko, Nao, her father, her uncle, and Ruth—have rich, complicated pasts that are revealed throughout the story and add to their complexity.
Additional elements: 5/5 I loved A Tale’s strong spiritual and mystical elements. The Buddhist belief system and the idea of reaching out across time and space were extremely interesting aspects of the story that really made me think.
Recommended for: People who love Japan; people interested in time, quantum physics, Buddhism, Japan, or kamikaze pilots; anyone who just loves a well-written story.