cover image One Bird

One Bird

Kyoko Mori. Henry Holt & Company, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-2983-3

Writing with her startling combination of delicacy in observing moods and incisiveness in defining individual actions, Mori revisits the premise of her first novel, Shizuko's Daughter. Once again an adolescent heroine must cope with a mother's desertion and the disgrace it causes in 1970s Japan-this time, however, the mother has not committed suicide but sought a separation from her husband. Custom dictates that she forfeit her right to see her child, 15-year-old Megumi, even though she is a devoted parent and even though Megumi's openly unfaithful father is frequently absent. Megumi navigates through her anger and frustration and, with the help of strong friends, quietly supplants prevailing conventions with her own sense of what is right and just. While initial passages and conflicts threaten to overwhelm the narrative with metaphors (e.g., Megumi nurses an injured bird back to health, then sets it free), the novel builds in momentum, gaining in complexity as it progresses. Even so, the finest element here is neither the plot nor the characters, but the keenly observed atmosphere. It is the portrait of Japan, thoughtfully probed for its ironies, that will linger with the reader. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)