Friday 19 May 2017

Hotaka: Through My Eyes

Hotaka: Through My Eyes by John Heffernan (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99  ISBN 9781760113766

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When media attention dwindles, we are left to merely imagine the after-effects of a natural disaster. How does a community recover from such a large-scale event? How do people unite to rebuild lives and towns when, in fact, so many are mourning their loved ones?

This novel, set in Japan, is the first in a promising new spin-off set of ‘Through My Eyes’ books (created by Lyn White) focusing specifically on natural disaster zones. The story is told from the perspective of a boy named Hotaka, and begins on March 11, 2011 – the day the northern coastline of Japan was struck by a tsunami that killed around 16,000 people. John Heffernan, who spent a month in the damaged Tōhoku region of Japan to research the novel, vividly describes the residents’ chaos and fear in a gripping, nail-biting introduction.

The story then cuts to 2014, three years later. The entire region is still a construction site. Many people are living in sub-standard accommodation. Hotaka is mourning both his friend, Takeshi, and his grandfather. Haunted by memories of that fateful day he tries to busy himself organising a memorial concert, enlisting the help of his two best friends (Osamu and Sakura). Sakura starts getting fired up about the seawall the government has arranged to build, and Hotaka doesn’t initially understand why. His beloved Uncle Yori explains it better: ‘We’re part of Nature. We can’t shut it out with walls. We have to live with it, not against it.’

Sakura, whose own tragic past is eventually revealed, starts a major community revolt against the wall, against the government and against the construction company. Together with Hotaka, Osamu, and the power of social media, their campaign reaches far and wide … but it seems the corrupt mayor will stop at nothing to silence them.

This uplifting work of historical fiction, targeting readers aged 11–14 years, is a compelling read in or outside the classroom. Its themes cover family, friendship, identity, community and government corruption. A glossary, timeline of events, and list of websites has been included. The novel is a wonderful exploration of the positive community forces at play when disaster strikes, delivering a beautiful message: ‘Sadness is not necessarily the enemy of happiness … for the dark gives the light a place to shine.’

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