Thrilled that this wonderful book is being released today! I've got my cup of tea and it's been a while since I wrote a review so let's jump in!
(I've done my best to avoid spoilers!)
(Cover photo from Hotkey Books, http://hotkeybooks.com/books/the-last-paper-crane/)
When I saw that a proof of the next book by Kerry Drewery had arrived I was intrigued. I loved and sped through her Cell 7 series, so I was expecting another brilliant young adult novel.
This book absolutely enthralled me.
The Last Paper Crane starts in verse, a different approach from her previous novels. While I don't always enjoy books written in verse, the story was so intriguing I read on.
Mizuki's grandfather, Ichiro, is grieving. Haunted by the loss of his wife and the pain of his childhood, he is not the grandfather Mizuki knows him to be. Determined to help, a tale of a lifetime of paper cranes unfolds through a mixture of narrative, free verse, and haiku poetry.
As a history student, this book presented an intimate perspective of the history of Hiroshima. Every person in the casualty numbers had a story. Every survivor holds a story. This book is an important reminder that history is personal and numbers aren't just numbers, rather an entanglement of people, and stories.
This book follows two plot lines: Ichiro surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and Ichiro as a grandfather dealing with years of loss. Primarily I will be talking about the survival story so as to avoid accidentally giving spoilers!
This book is a searing and shocking tale of the devastation and terror of the bombing, written as an eyewitness account of a boy faced with one of the most horrific events in history. While I was reading this, I was also studying a module on the technology of the Cold War. The stark reality and hope within this book made my studies feel that much more connected with the actual event. When we study history, it is often from a detached, distant, hindsight perspective. This is necessary in a lot of cases for academic work, but I feel that reading books from a more personal angle can add an intimate understanding of the topic for students. In any case, I was extremely moved by this book, so much in fact that I cried twice while reading it (once on the train)... I even tweeted about this: https://twitter.com/AndreaJStewart/status/1202236399434506240!
Ichiro's survival story is so brilliantly written that while reading this I felt his injuries, his heartache, his pain. Drewery has written an incredible story of survival and friendship. Ichiro's promise to his friend, to take care of his 5-year-old sister (Keiko), is intertwined with a Japanese legend of paper cranes: if a person folds 1000 paper cranes they will find their heart's desire. And Ichiro has one more origami crane to fold years after the bomb was dropped. The seamless storytelling is most evident in this plot line, through the blending and melding of Ichiro in his teens and in his old age.
A review of this book without mentioning the illustrations would be amiss. The illustrations are beautifully meshed within the story. It is unusual for a young adult novel to include quite so many illustrations, however, don't let the inclusion of illustrations put anyone off! Seki's illustrations add an incredible depth and expression of emotion to this story, and I spent a long time flicking back to the illustrations once I'd finished the book to fully appreciate their depth and immerse myself further.
In fact, here is a picture of my proof copy with tons of sticky tabs attached at my favourite parts:
In sum, I adored this book.: it made me cry, and made me feel as though I was there, experiencing the harrowing event. I think this book is incredibly important for teenagers to read, as history needs to be made more personal so that people can connect with it. I think that everyone* should read this book!
*One caution: I recommend this book for readers aged 14+. I want to give a warning that this book is quite harrowing, due to the topic it approaches. Thus, I recommend this for older readers, and that sensitive readers may need to be careful.