Say's masterfully executed watercolors tell as much of this story about a young woman's challenging transition from America to Japan as his eloquent, economical prose. Raised near San Francisco, Masako (her American friends called her May) is uprooted after high school when her parents return to their Japanese homeland. In addition to repeating high school to learn Japanese, she must learn the arts of a ""proper Japanese lady""--flower arranging, calligraphy and the tea ceremony--and is expected to marry well. Declaring ""I'd rather have a turtle than a husband,"" the independent-minded Masako heads for the city of Osaka and gets a job in a department store. With his characteristic subtlety, Say sets off his cultural metaphor from the very start, contrasting the green tea Masako has for breakfast in her home, with the ""tea with milk and sugar"" she drinks at her friends' houses in America. Later, when she meets a young Japanese businessman who also prefers tea with milk and sugar to green tea, readers will know that she's met her match. Say reveals on the final page that the couple are his parents. Whether the subject is food (""no more pancakes or omelets, fried chicken or spaghetti"" in Japan) or the deeper issues of ostracism (her fellow students call Masako ""gaijin""--foreigner) and gender expectations, Say provides gentle insights into human nature as well as East-West cultural differences. His exquisite, spare portraits convey emotions that lie close to the surface and flow easily from page to reader: with views of Masako's slumping posture and mask-like face as she dons her first kimono, or alone in the schoolyard, it's easy to sense her dejection. Through choice words and scrupulously choreographed paintings, Say's story communicates both the heart's yearning for individuality and freedom and how love and friendship can bridge cultural chasms. Ages 4-8. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/29/1999 Release date: 03/01/1999 Genre: Children's
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