Review Blog

Apr 27 2017

Hotaka by John Heffernan

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Through my eyes: Disaster zone series. Allen and Unwin, 2017. ISBN 9781760113766
(Age: 11+) Highly recommended. Tsunami. Japan. Hope. Friendship. Grief and loss. Corruption. This is a story of disaster and hope seen through the eyes of the young boy, Hotaka. In March 2011 a massive earthquake generates a devastating tsunami that destroys major coastline districts in Japan. John Heffernan places us with Hotaka to experience this horrific natural disaster with huge impacts; we feel the horror of the shaking ground and see the ocean wave claim huge sections of Hotaka's home community. With indiscriminate fury and unbelievable power this wave consumes buildings and local residents who have no hope against the ferocity of the tsunami's energy. The dramatic retelling of this part of Japan's history has incredible loss and trauma woven into the life and experience of Hotaka, but we also see the impact in his community of the incredible grief, greed and sense of loss that follows in the recovery period. However the central thrust of this story is that there is also incredible strength revealed in the survivors. The Japanese respectful response to those in authority, traditional Bunraku puppetry, Kendo martial arts and traditional Shaman and Buddhist beliefs are also revealed within the context of the story.
The essence of this story is of the power of the youthful voices that speak out against corruption, and also give hope back to their community through the planning of a festival event that will restore a positive spirit to their lives. This is a compelling narrative and revealing of the Japanese people's journey following this enormous disaster and their capacity to recover. It is also a story of friendship and restoration in the lives of individuals.
(Note: Although the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant destruction is part of the story of Hotaka's friend, it does not become the prime focus of this story.)
Carolyn Hull

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