The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida – Clarissa Goenawan

Spoilers Ahead! (in the content warnings)

She’d said she wanted to tell me something. Maybe I could find out what, if I traced her path somehow.

Miwako Sumida was only 20 when she died. Her story is told by three people who each knew part of it. Ryusei was the man who loved Miwako. Chie, who began her life as a “transparent girl”, was Miwako’s best friend. Fumi, Ryusei’s sister, was Miwako’s employer. I want to tell you all about them but can’t, because spoilers.

I really liked Miwako. She was blunt. She could be stand-offish. If you wanted to know her at all, you had to work for it. But she was worth the effort.

“You know, she just made everything better. More intense. More colorful. When I looked at her, I used to think, ‘Hey, maybe the world isn’t such a bad place.’”

Her kindred spirit potential was evident to me early on, right about the time she bailed on karaoke with her friends to go to a bookstore. However, even though I saw her through the eyes of three people who knew her best, I still didn’t truly feel like I knew Miwako and I loved that about her.

Miwako was quite deliberately unknowable and although this would usually frustrate me, it somehow endeared her to me even more. It wasn’t until after her death that the secrets she was carrying were revealed and even then, it wasn’t an easy reveal. There was work involved.

I was sad that Miwako’s secrets weighed so heavily on her and that she never sought the support she deserved. Even though I knew from the blurb that she died by suicide I kept wanting her to reach out to one of the people who loved her, to trust them enough with the parts of herself that filled her with shame.

Miwako was not the only one keeping secrets. Ryusei, Chie and Fumi’s stories each highlighted, through their own stories or their memories of Miwako, the pain we feel when we keep parts of ourselves hidden and how secrets can change the course of our lives.

Given the difficult content that’s explored in this book I was surprised that I felt almost meditative while I was reading it. There’s something that I haven’t identified yet about the way it was written that made it feel like the words were washing over me.

It was really easy for me to get into. I found myself dreading the introduction of a new voice each time a new part began because I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the one I’d been spending time with. Each time, though, the new voice would suck me in and I’d be wanting to learn more of their story.

I was keen to spend more time with Ryusei in the months between his part of the story ending and the next time I saw him. I need to know how he spent his days and how he managed his grief over time, and his story is unfinished in my mind because I don’t have those details.

I really liked Chie and enjoyed getting to know different aspects of Miwako through their shared experience. Overall, though, it seemed to me that Chie’s main role in this story was to provide information to Ryusei and I don’t think she will stay with me. In contrast, I expect Ryusei and Fumi’s stories to linger with me.

Although I’m still having trouble deciding between Miwako and Fumi, I’m almost positive Fumi is my favourite character. And I can’t tell you why, because spoilers. Again!

The final revelation about Miwako’s life read a bit like an info dump to me and I wasn’t entirely sold on all of the details, but in the end it didn’t matter. I loved this book, so much so that I bought my copy of the author’s debut, Rainbirds, before I’d even read a quarter of this one.

But when it came to Miwako Sumida, nothing was as I expected.

Content warnings include abortion, bullying, death by suicide and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to Scribe Publications for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A bewitching novel set in contemporary Japan about the mysterious suicide of a young woman.

Miwako Sumida is dead.

Now those closest to her try to piece together the fragments of her life. Ryusei, who has always loved her, follows Miwako’s trail to a remote Japanese village. Chie, Miwako’s best friend, was the only person to know her true identity – but is now the time to reveal it? Meanwhile, Fumi, Ryusei’s sister, is harbouring her own haunting secret.

Together, they realise that the young woman they thought they knew had more going on behind her seemingly perfect façade than they could ever have dreamed. 

Under the Love Umbrella – Davina Bell

Illustrations – Allison Colpoys

Up in the sky, amongst the stars

There’s something you might not see …

But over your head and just above

There’s an umbrella of my love

To show it’s you I’m thinking of

Wherever you might be.

Warm and fuzzies abound in this gorgeous picture book. We follow four children, who are introduced in the beginning of the book as Joe, Brian, Grace and Izzy, as they navigate the world under their love umbrellas. No matter what they’re feeling or what they’re doing, they’re assured of the love of their family, which follows them wherever they go.

This is the kind of book that makes me almost wish I had a child I could read this to each bedtime. Because the love umbrella works whether you’re with your loved ones or not I can also see the value of using this book if your child has separation anxiety or if a caregiver needed to be absent from the home for a period of time for work, illness or miscellaneous. Multiple ethnicities are represented, as are different types of families, although I didn’t find any children with a visible disability in any of the illustrations.

I’m always up for a challenge so I loved the idea of trying to discover all of the umbrellas pictured in the book and if I was reading this with a child I’d be encouraging them to help me find them. My personal favourite ‘hidden’ umbrella was the moving truck number plate – BR0LLY.

The illustrations are lovely. The umbrellas in the stars and fireworks are particularly creative and there are plenty of details to appreciate, including a framed picture of a bear wearing a tutu and holding (you guessed it!) an umbrella.

I wouldn’t usually choose a book for bedtime reading with fluorescent colours but for some reason it works here, especially when there’s a dark background.

I’m probably more partial to the idea of love umbrellas because once upon a time, when a work friend and I were having a bad day or needed some emotional support we’d ask to borrow an umbrella from the other. We’d end up having a coffee and a chat, and even if the problem wasn’t solved by the end of the conversation we felt better knowing we could share it with someone who cared. We gave each other umbrella themed gifts and each had one of those umbrellas you find in fancy drinks on our desks at work.

Just looking at that flimsy little paper umbrella made me smile each time I glanced at it; it reminded me that whatever type of day I was having there was someone in the next office who cared enough about me to be there for me no matter what, and vice versa. It prevented me from ever feeling alone. Although it’s many years later I still associate umbrellas with emotional support and it makes my heart feel all gooey that the kids who are read this book are going to associate the imagery of umbrellas with love.

This book will have you thinking about who’s under your Love Umbrella. ☂️

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Whatever you fear, come close my dear

You’re tucked in safe for always here

And I will never not be near

Because of our love umbrella

From this award-winning creative duo comes a book about the wonder of ever-present love. A stunning celebration of the joy and comfort that is always with us, wherever we roam in the big, wild world.

Who’s under your Love Umbrella?