This stellar masterpiece of a book makes me think of the 1968 George Harrison song, "The Inner Light." It might make you cry. This book will infuse those fortunate enough to read it with the Light of Hope.
Since this book was written in the Japanese manga style, readers are also treated to Japanese literary culture. The book's story sequence is from right to left, which is the opposite of most Western languages. A glossary of Japanese words and a list of Japanese holidays and description of services for people with autism are provided as well. Readers are engaging in a form of cultural sharing with this book.
Sachiko and Masato Azuma's first child, Hikaru is named for the sunrise - he is a ray of new light into their lives. He is like the 1969 George Harrison classic, "Here Comes the Sun," as his birth was just like a sunrise - new and full of promise. Hikaru is a linking of cultures as well. Masato's mother is Western and his late father was plainly Japanese. Sachiko is Western. Hikaru is more Asian in appearance. There are other non-Asian and even Eurasian characters in this book as well, which provides a "diverse" look at Japan and Japanese culture.
Hikaru Azuma, now 10 is in the 5th grade. His sister Kanon, 3 is a student at the same preschool Hikaru attended and is very outgoing. She continues to give Hikaru crash courses in socialization as she is an in-your-face personality.
Their father, Masato is facing a whole set of isssues as well. He is transferred from his office to a tedious job with no promise for advancement in a remote city. Despite these professional setbacks, Masato finds inspiration in a very unlikely place. Sachiko, meanwhile is allowing Hikaru more freedom and encourages him to walk to and from school. Sachiko is also spreading her own wings and taking on more job assignments.
During one such walk home from school, Hikaru's old schoolmate, Oki visits the old neighborhood. A semi-orphan in foster care, Oki decides to take a walk by the old school. He sees Hikaru and decides to follow him home as he did in the previous installment when Hikaru wandered onto a bus and a train and ended up over 100 miles from home.
Sachiko and Kanon are waiting for Hikaru and greet Oki. He nearly gets hit by a car and Sachiko insists on taking him to her family doctor. The doctor examines the boy and finds evidence of physical abuse, which Oki denies. He slips out of the doctor's office so as to get back to the orphanage before he is missed.
It is there that a litany of horrors are uncovered. Readers learn more about Oki. His alcoholic father has since died and the boy's mother's whereabouts remain unknown. Oki is targeted by bullies and forced to steal. His ribs are fractured in one such attack.
Luck changes for Oki. Masato visits him at the orphanage to thank him for saving Hikaru the previous year. He tells Oki that if he can help him, he will. After much inner debate, Oki gathers up his courage to describe the abuse at the orphanage. The place is run by a singularly cruel man who actually beats the boys. A dorm worker risks her job by going behind other staff's back to try and protect the boys. The Azumas' doctor, a truly delightful man also has a hand in helping Oki.
Meanwhile, Hikaru is making some progress with a teacher who is ill suited and not trained in teaching students with special needs. His younger classmate Miyu, 7, is severely autistic and barely verbal. She often gets lost between the bathroom and the classroom and this has resulted in several accidents. She uses picture cards to communicate. Hikaru's old friends/mentors who have known him from preschool step up to the plate for him again in this installment. Moe and Nobuaki volunteer to work 1x1 with Hikaru and Miyu. Moe and Nobuaki understand Hikaru and Miyu's need for schedules; they speak to them in soft tones and encourage them to do their work. A bright, popular boy named Tanaka, from the old preschool crowd is by now a pre-teen idol. He, too steps up to the plate for Hikaru and is delightfully unaffected by his new pop status.
This is a wonderful book about acceptance and the characters with autism are refreshingly realistic and sympathetic. The illustrations are first rate and readers learn a lot about services in Japan for people with autism. Hikaru and Miyu as well as their neurotypical peers continue in their lessons in tolerance.
Keiko Tobe has unified people from all over the world with this stellar book. She wisely included explanations and descriptions of Japanese culture and mores as well as some humor. While Tobe does not go into great detail about autism, her story and the magnificent drawings clearly depict severely autistic behavior and how it impacts others.
This is a delightful book that will remain a bright light in the hearts of all who read it.