Thursday, May 19, 2011

Book Review: Shizuko's Daughter

Blurb — Shizuko kills herself, escaping a soured marriage, leaving her husband free to marry his mistress of eight years, and having vague ideas about making her daughter's life better. Yuki, 12, now faces a bleak world with a stepmother who tries to eradicate all traces of her predecessor and curtail the girl's visits to her mother's family. Her father is distant, taciturn, and guilt ridden, providing neither the support Yuki needs nor the discipline the stepmother wants him to exercise over the girl. Most of all, Yuki must cope with the loss of her mother and piece together some meaning for her death and ultimately for her life. Through strength and independence, Yuki comes to grips with her mother's memory, deals with her own current plight, and makes plans for the future.

Review — While not technically a novel about Asian-Americans, I felt this book deserved a mention, because it was one of the first books featuring an Asian main character that I read. I don't know what necessarily drew me to this book, but I do remember that after the first page, I was hooked. It is not often you come across a book with that kind of power.

The title was an apt choice, because Yuki spends the duration of the book struggling with the concept of being Shizuko's daughter, the daughter of a woman who committed suicide, a label she both wants to escape and doesn't. The range of emotions depicted is vast, as you might expect. There's a lot of grief and anger, but in spite of it all, this is a book that manages to be hopeful. So while what drew me in to the story was a horrified fascination with the actual suicide that is described in the opening pages, I stayed with it because the message was an uplifting one.

Maybe I am not looking hard enough, but I see a lot of recycled premises in YA, like having to cope with a lie you've been told your whole life, having to move somewhere else, being the ugly duckling of school, and I'm certainly not saying here that recycled premises can't be good ones. It is pretty rare, though, to see a book that deals with successfully with suicide, and maybe that's why this book stands out to me. The point of the book is not really to try to understand the suicide (because how can anyone, much less a 12-year-old girl make sense of her mother deciding to end her own life?), but to realize that somehow, you have to pick up the pieces and move on. The addition of having to deal with a not-so-attentive father and the sudden presence of a stepmother was also exceptionally handled.

As you may be able to tell by now, I clearly have a preference for "quiet" books; not that I don't enjoy a great rabble-rousing, fast-paced action/adventure, but I tend to gravitate with my own picks toward books that lie on the literary side of the line. The parts that shine in SHIZUKO'S DAUGHTER are the scenes of contemplation, and there is some really exquisite description here. While technically a young adult novel, I would recommend this to people who are of high school age and over. Not because it's graphic or inappropriate, but because I feel like I didn't really appreciate it until later, since I read it rather early on. A real jewel of a book. Check it out if you can.


  1. You make a lot of great points here, but one in particular stands out - the idea that a 12-year-old girl can't make sense of why the mother decided to commit suicide. The mark of a great writer is being able to see that there are some perspectives you can't truly understand (without having gone through it, of course) and sometimes you don't necessarily have to. There's still a story there, and you can tell it from that perspective rather than from the one you can't possibly understand. In essence, keep the writing honest. I'll have to check this book out. Thanks for introducing it to us, XiXi.

  2. This is one of my favorite novels. I've read it when I was twelve because I thought the front cover was amazing.
    I rarely read Asian books despite my nationality, and I have to admit that it is one of the best books I've ever read. It makes us reflect about the hardships of a young, pubescent girl during the darker days, and how traditions of one's country can be harsh at times.
    Rarely have I stumbled to people who have read this book. Thanks for giving us your opinions. Gave me more insights about the story.