________________ CM . . . . Volume VI Number 8 . . . . December 10, 1999

cover Naomi: The Strawberry Blonde of Pippu Town.

Karmel Schreyer.
Winnipeg, MB: Great Plains Fiction, 1999.
189 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 1-894283-05-8.

Grades 6 - 11 / Ages 11 - 16.
Review by Mary Thomas.

*** /4


Sara noticed the puzzled look on Naomi's face. "What is it, Naomi?" she asked...
     "Ai asked me to go with her family to the shrine today," Naomi answered. ... "She said that her brother is five years old. Maybe it's his birthday today --- Ai didn't say."
     Keiko's eyes twinkled. "I'm sure that today is not his birthday. But it is a special day for him, because he is five years old." With that, Keiko started in on her French toast, waiting for Naomi to take up challenge.
      Naomi laughed. "What do you mean? What's so special about today?"
     "It is shichi-go-san," Keiko replied. "All over Japan, little girls aged three and seven, and boys aged five, will go to the shrines and ask for good luck. Their parents and grandparents will give them presents. It is a special day for them."
     "Shichi-go-san. Oh, I see: seven, five, three," Naomi said, then giggled. "That's neat."
Twelve-year-old Naomi is feeling rebellious and upset. Her mother has decided, with a minimum of consultation, that they will spend a year in Japan, away from Naomi's grandparents and friends, merely because she has found a job there and because she feels that she must begin "doing her own thing" now that her divorce from Naomi's father has become ancient history. Naomi would have preferred to stay rooted in good Manitoba clay, but, almost against her will, she finds herself becoming first interested in, and then fascinated by, Japanese culture and way of life. She makes friends, although, just as at home, not with everyone, comforting herself over her failures with her grandmother's saying that "you can't be everyone's best friend." She enjoys showing her Japanese friends some of her own Canadian/Ukrainian customs even as she learns about Japanese ones. At the end of her year there, she is at least as sad at leaving Japan as she had been at going away from Portage la Prairie. It had been a good year. She had learned a lot about Japan and about herself as she worked at coping with a foreign language, a foreign culture, and even a foreign terrain as she and her mother struggled to the top of Mount Fuji in time for the sunrise on Canada Day!
     This is not an exciting book where every chapter leaves the reader or the heroine hanging over the edge of a literal or metaphorical cliff. It is a gentle story of a difficult year where the important truths are not so much in the actual events as in the way Naomi's attitude to them changes as her philosophy of life matures. She arrives in Japan as a rebellious child and leaves as a young adult confident in her own abilities to face difficulties and overcome them.
     For the reader, as well as the story, there is a great deal of information - for the young reader perhaps a bit too much - about Japan, its language, its scripts, its enthusiasms and its festivals. But it is a fascinating country, and Naomi helps readers to appreciate its differences while still emphasizing that people are much the same the world over.


Mary Thomas, who lives and works in Winnipeg, MB, has recently returned from a year in England. Some of Naomi's experiences as a stranger in a strange land struck a very sympathetic chord!

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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