Soul Lanterns – Shaw Kuzki

Translator – Emily Balistrieri

“There are still so many people looking for someone in Hiroshima.” 

I’ve heard so many stories told by people who survived the atomic bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. The physical and mental impacts of surviving something so unimaginable. Stories of loved ones who vanished that day. Many accounts I’ve come across have been from adults who were children in 1945. 

Written by a second generation survivor, this middle grade book takes place 25 years later. Nozomi, a twelve year old second generation survivor, attends the annual lantern floating ceremony, honouring loved ones who died as a result of the atomic bomb. Nozomi realises that one of the lanterns her mother releases each year doesn’t have a name written on it.

Between beginning to investigate who the person behind the nameless lantern is and a special art project, Nozomi and her friends discover that “even when you think you know someone, there are tons of things you have no idea about”.

This is a story of loss, grief and regret. It reminded me how important it is to truly appreciate our loved ones and to live in a way that minimises regret about the things we did and didn’t do or say. 

I didn’t really connect with Nozomi and the story felt disjointed at times. Young readers may ask some tricky questions after finishing this book about war, death and the images, not over the top graphic but obviously still disturbing, of what happens to people’s bodies when they’re exposed to such catastrophic levels of radiation. 

“So many people’s fates were changed by the flash. Many of those who survived physically were dead inside.” 

I would hesitate recommending this book too widely. I’d be reading this one first so I could decide whether it was appropriate for my specific kid. It probably would have been too confronting for me and I wouldn’t have known how to manage the images that would have implanted themselves into my brain if I’d read this book when I was too young.

Although this book held such sadness, it also managed to hold beauty and hope, and I’m so glad I found it.

Content warnings include death by suicide, descriptions of what happened to people and buildings when the bomb was dropped, and the long term physical and psychological impacts of war.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The haunting and poignant story of a how a young Japanese girl’s understanding of the historic and tragic bombing of Hiroshima is transformed by a memorial lantern-floating ceremony.

Twelve-year-old Nozomi lives in the Japanese city of Hiroshima. She wasn’t even born when the bombing of Hiroshima took place. Every year Nozomi joins her family at the lantern-floating ceremony to honour those lost in the bombing. People write the names of their deceased loved ones along with messages of peace, on paper lanterns and set them afloat on the river. This year Nozomi realises that her mother always releases one lantern with no name. She begins to ask questions, and when complicated stories of loss and loneliness unfold, Nozomi and her friends come up with a creative way to share their loved ones’ experiences. By opening people’s eyes to the struggles they all keep hidden, the project teaches the entire community new ways to show compassion.

Soul Lanterns is an honest exploration of what happened on 6 August, 1945, and offers readers a glimpse not only into the rich cultural history of Japan but also into the intimate lives of those who recognise – better than most – the urgent need for peace. 

Wilder Girls – Rory Power

I wish I were surprised. I wish any of this were still strange to me.

Before I say anything else I have to mention the cover! Aykut Aydoğdu’s cover art is incredible and it’s what drew me to this book in the first place. Of course, the blurb sucked me in too but the cover had already solidified my need to have this book in my life.

I’m often wary about reading books that have a lot of hype surrounding them. The longer it takes me from discovering a book I desperately want to read to actually holding the book in my hands, the higher my expectations grow. Unfortunately this can result in reality feeling like a colossal let down, when it was actually the pedestal I built that was mostly to blame for the disparity.

I’ve been anticipating this read since January and while I enjoyed it, I didn’t love it. It was a quick read and I definitely wanted to know what was going to happen. I never felt a connection with any of the characters though, so no matter what they experienced I felt like I was watching on dispassionately from the sidelines when what I wanted was to be cheering them on, feeling their pain and mourning their losses.

This story is told from the perspectives of Hetty and Byatt, but Reese’s story is also important and I would have liked to have seen the events unfold from her point of view as well. Although I know some information about each of these girls I wasn’t invested in their friendship or their survival.

Once thing I absolutely loved was the descriptions of the Tox’s impacts on the individual characters. If you’re squeamish this may not be the book for you but I was all in for the flare ups of their conditions. I wanted to know why the effects were so diverse and I did get a partial explanation for the differences between students and teachers, and male and female, but I wanted more. I know in stories like this you don’t always get access to knowledge that the main characters aren’t privy to but I would have loved to have been able to read a confidential military report, even if parts of it were redacted.

Because this story begins a year and a half after the Tox began the Raxter girls have already settled into their new normal. It’s brutal but a lot of the emotion that would have been evident in the beginning has already evaporated. There are some scenes where you catch a glimpse of what life would have been like prior to the Tox but you don’t get to see everyday life devolving. This may have helped me to become emotionally involved in the outcome.

I expected to feel the urgency of the events in this book but I never did, even though numerous scenes should have had me on edge. Maybe I set my expectations too high. If I’d read this book earlier or on a day when I was already feeling more emotional I may have felt more for Hetty and her friends. I don’t know.

Despite my whinge (sorry about that. I had hoped to be rambling about my love for everyone and everything I encountered), I’m still glad I read this book. I don’t think I’ll ever want to reread it but I am still interested in reading the next book by this author.

Content warnings can be found on the author’s website here. They’ve provided a much more comprehensive list than I could have.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her.

It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything.

But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the fence. And when she does, Hetty learns that there’s more to their story, to their life at Raxter, than she could have ever thought true.