cover image The Spring Tone

The Spring Tone

Kazumi Yumoto. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (176pp) ISBN 978-0-374-37153-1

After expressing how death affects a child in her acclaimed first novel, The Friends, Yumoto offers a different variation on the theme, in this sensitively wrought story. Her language, musically translated once again by Hirano, is quiet yet foreboding, much like the calm before a storm. Through a first-person narrative, readers learn the secret fears and recurring nightmares of Tomomi Kiriki, who is about to enter junior high. The guilt Tomomi feels for thinking that ailing Grandma ""would be better off dead,"" and Grandma's subsequent death, plagues the girl until she confides in her grandfather toward the close of the novel. Her guilt combines with other anxieties: changes going on in her body, her parents' arguments, her dilapidated house and her family's ongoing dispute with a neighbor. Then, one day, Tomomi's little brother, Tetsu, takes her to his special place, a junkyard that is home to a mob of stray cats. Here, in the company of Tetsu and an eccentric woman who feeds the cats twice a day, Tomomi finds a refuge. Tomomi's expression of hatred, then immediate act of compassion toward an old enemy mark a turning point in the story and in the heroine. Signs of rejuvenation that follow are as welcoming as gentle spring rain. Yumoto's story offers remarkably wise and deeply personal insight into the pains of growing up. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)