How Do You Live? by Genzaburō Yoshino | Book Review

Author: Genzaburō Yoshino

Illustrator: Carla Weise

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: October 2021

Genres: Children’s Fiction / Young Adult

Pages: 288

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“We gather together to create the world, and what’s more, we are moved by the waves of the world and thereby brought to life.”

– Genzaburō Yoshino

In pre-World War II Japan, a boy named Honda Jun’ichi loses his father, leaving him socially perplexed about his place in life. His fun-loving creativity leads Honda to troubling yet curious questions about and for the world. He decides they are not enough for one mind to think of, so he seeks council from his uncle, his mentor and father figure. From one discovery to the next, Honda is relieved and ready to explore the boundless knowledge and cultures of the human race through the lens of his own life and life itself.

How Do You Live? is a bildungsroman Japanese tale translated to English for the first time since its original publication in 1937. While its resurgence will garner new readers, it has also brought the acclaimed animator of Studio Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki, out of retirement to make one last film based on this classic, his childhood favorite, and just in time for Ghibli Fest. The story acts as a time capsule that remembers not only the idyllic past, but a promising future. The novel is careful not to be overbearing with its historical and political context as it serves a necessary, metaphorical, and practical ethos. The book also takes aims at groupthink, selfishness, and the suspension of disbelief with considerate measures, thoughts, and defenses against their extremes. Put simply, Yoshino writes with metacognition, depicts a progressive multiculturalism while recognizing the dark side of human nature, and celebrates ideas, the people who have them, the people without them, and the people who misuse them. It is also a celebration of celebration itself, the ability to be grateful, to exhibit gratitude for the actions, feelings, and thoughts we have. In this way, the life lessons presented by the characters become one bridge rather than a border between each other and a story that they tell together and apart, knowingly and unknowingly.

The reader cannot help but be caught unawares by the selfless mindfulness and truthful awareness that can easily be overlooked due to the immediacy of the present moment. By the same token, it is also a time to live in that moment, to reflect before and after one acts, to never squander the meaning around one’s self and inside others. A most befitting and prominent example of this is when a character grows ill at one point. The expected writer of this novel was initially Yūzō Yamamoto until he too became ill. Here Yoshino adheres to both philosophies of life imitating art and art imitating life. How the uncle and Honda create their own nomenclature for behavior, ethics, history, science, religion, philosophy, and other studies helps them to think of themselves less, not less of themselves, and think of others’ lives in the process of knowing what life is. Their many talks also lead to Honda’s affectionate nickname, Copper, after their discussion about Copernicus and his heliocentric theory. The experiences of Copper are at first hand, unfiltered, and brand new while his uncle takes a journalistic approach, documenting the moments as their own individual and interconnected events. The remarkable and clever attributions of the world’s leaders, martyrs, saboteurs, saints, and thinkers’ efforts from hundreds of centuries and millenniums ago to one’s life now and its purpose moving forward is not just Yoshino’s story, it is everyone’s story, the story of the human race. Beyond wishful thinking, more than the vicarious absence of self, How Do You Live? prepares a slice of pie in the sky you can reach out and taste. By accepting and elevating one’s sensations for each doubt, fallibility, fear, foible, folly, forgiveness, misery, regret, sadness, suffering, and joy, there will be discovery and self-discovery for life’s big question: what does it mean to be truly human?

Final Rating:

BookFireRate

It’s Lit!

Egg Marks the Spot (Skunk and Badger #2) by Amy Timberlake | Book Review

Author: Amy Timberlake

Illustrator: Jon Klassen

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: September 2021

Genres: Children’s Fiction  

Pages: 160

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“One minute everything is dark, and you are sure the worst possible end is coming. And then – suddenly! – a spot of blue sky.”

– Amy Timberlake, Skunk and Badger #2

The desultory duo from North Twist return with their staple sense of comedy and camaraderie, this time on a rock-finding expedition. Badger, the austere geologist, is conducting important rock work when Skunk, the goading happy-go-lucky chef, notices a rock missing from his Wall of Rocks: agate. Badger’s cousin, Fisher, a treasure dealer, purloined the rock that started Badger’s sedimentary hobby and career. In Egg Marks the Spot, Skunk and Badger seek to complete the collection before enjoying the Sunday New Yak Times Book Review over breakfast. With familiar and new faces, extended backstories, and a lesson or two met with mystery, the series continues to make strides for all ages.

A year later and this sequel has not dulled the original’s rustic panache. It maintains the hyperbolic world of the animal kingdom Amy Timberlake and Jon Klassen have cleverly depicted. Throughout this tale, themes of greed and glory take precedent in subtle and solemn ways. Skunk overprepares, overpacks, and overwhelms Badger with his towering backpack in slapstick fashion. At one point, Badger worries so much that he forgoes nourishment from one of Skunk’s fantastic meals. Moments where actions speak louder than words and where words are measured twice and cut deeply are laudable. The only exception to this is perhaps in the exposition. It felt Skunk and Badger’s time in the woods was short-lived, despite the foretold danger of bears and the secrecy behind the chicken’s Quantum Leap powers, which has a bittersweet payoff. The pacing is convenient and simple, yet curious and expectant, but never cheap or forced. More unexpected turns as well as more background into Skunk’s personal history would have been welcome leading up to a promising albeit jam-packed ending.

Final Rating:

Green Rose

Skunk and Badger #1 by Amy Timberlake | Book Review

Author: Amy Timberlake

Illustrator: Jon Klassen

Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers

Published: September 2020

Genres: Children’s Fiction  

Pages: 136

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“Not everyone wants a skunk.”

– Amy Timberlake, Skunk and Badger #1

Animals paint an unlikely, but possible, analogy for humans in countless fables. Personified, they hold up a mirror to the reader, showing our imperfect nature. The animal kingdom, of course, is fraught with unforgiving tooth-and-claw indelicacies. Sometimes, Skunk and Badger teaches us, nature can be forgiving. Badger is a rock scientist and excavator who lives in his Aunt Lula’s brownstone. His work is solitary and all Badger requires is silent execution. A knock on the door interrupts his study, from rose-colored Skunk who is in need of a home and is offered room and board at the brownstone from Aunt Lula. Playful misunderstandings, magical hard science, and whimsical madness ensue for the curious roommates in the picturesque home ground of North Twist.

The characterization and onomatopoeic burbling of instincts are thoughtful and familiar. Badger and Skunk use the brownstone out of necessity, but the first’s austerity contradicts the latter’s audacity. The subtle ironies too (Skunk does not clean, but recycles) are welcome, unexpected spins on the all-work and all-play duo’s dynamic before they balance out. Amy Timberlake with Jon Klassen share a similar synergy comparable to Roald Dahl with Quentin Blake: stark, solemn, and remarkably silly. A poignant and palatable sense of change as good, or that anyone can change, and the contagions of cynicism, criticism, conformity, and complacency, Skunk and Badger paves the way for doing the right thing and for meaningful and respectable friendships, even with ourselves.                

Final Rating:

Green Rose