Friendships and trials across nations

Tomo FORMAT

Tomo FORMATTOMO: FRIENDSHIP THROUGH FICTION – AN ANTHOLOGY OF JAPAN TEEN STORIES

TOMO: FRIENDSHIP THROUGH FICTION – AN ANTHOLOGY OF JAPAN TEEN STORIES
Edited By Holly Thompson (Berkeley, Calif.: Stone Bridge Press, 2012, 384 pp., $14.95, paperback)

Children’s author Holly Thompson, who resides in a seaside town in Kamakura near Tokyo, missed the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster that struck while she was visiting the United States. Despite rolling blackouts and the looming threat of nuclear radiation, however, she wanted to return to the nation she called home when numerous expatriates in Japan were trying to get out. She volunteered and donated to help, but the 36-story anthology she has edited and published is perhaps a crowning achievement.

“Tomo” is a fiction anthology dedicated to the children of Tohoku. The book’s blog explains that it promotes “friendship through fiction” and that proceeds from the anthology will go toward nonprofits working to help children in the disaster-stricken region. A large spectrum of authors answered the call for stories; some pieces are original to “Tomo,” while others are reprinted. The book contains stories about youths in turmoil and features 10 translated pieces, one of them an old Ainu tale. The book’s contributors include San Francisco-based author Wendy Nelson Tokunaga, comic artist (and “Secret Asian Man” creator) Tak Toyoshima and renowned Japanese author Kenji Miyazawa.

As “Tomo” is dedicated to the young victims of March 11, readers will face a heavy heart while reading the book. The first story, “Lost” by Andrew Fukuda, features the aftermath of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995. The unnamed narrator comes to terms with her amnesia and broken life following the devastating earthquake. The first section of the book is especially heartrending, as “Shock and Tremors” focuses on earthquakes. Following that, “Friends and Enemies” refocuses the anthology to half a century earlier with stories about the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese American incarceration, and the aftermath of the war in Japan.

While each section of the book follows a different theme, each story focuses on adolescent youth. The reader is invited to grow with the characters in sometimes sweet and, other times, painful ways. Many of the stories, set in the midst of a calamity, rob the innocence of a doe-eyed child faced with the next step in their lives. Not all the stories are sad, but there is an overall bittersweet tinge to many of the stories — whether by the looming tragedy of the earthquake or through the story’s narrative.

At the end of many of the stories, however, there is some sort of triumph. A high school student is inspired to write with classmates, Canadian Japanese kids triumph over the Mounties during the war, a girl is rescued from tree spirits and a pair of siblings learn to overcome pushy parents. The moments are heartwarming; the trials the youth endure amplify a yearning for hope that pushes readers to root for them.

Heavy or not, each story in “Tomo” is distinct and portrays young adults with maturity and strength, the very same traits that those affected by last year’s earthquake will have to exhibit in the coming future.

(Also available as a Kindle eBook.)

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