As seen on Stumptown Books
Part of the Non-European Fantasy by Women
This is exactly the sort of book I am so, so happy this blog series is introducing me to. I am breathless at how much I am loving the books I've chosen; Little Sister, by Kara Dalkey, is no exception.
It takes place in medieval Japan, a thoroughly foreign concept to me. I know very little about Japanese mythology and history, although this book was enough to make me keenly interested. We are introduced to Mitsuko, which translates literally to "Little Sister," and for much of the story the name fits her perfectly. She hides behind her sleeves like any good young woman being brought up in court, where modesty prevails above all.
Quickly, the fortunes of her family take a turn for the worse. The spirit of her beloved older sister, who Mitsuko wants to emulate in all things, wanders off after a tragedy, and only a shell of a human remains. Mitsuko takes it upon herself to fix this dreadful problem, leading her on an adventure where she makes unlikely friends through her tenacity and desire to set the world right.
The first thing I loved about this book was that it introduced me to a Japanese mythological creature called a tengu. There are a few different interpretations of what they are, but in this case, the tengu are basically raven men/demons. You can see a representation of one on Mitsuko's sleeve on the cover art. Goranu is one of these creatures, and decides to aid Mitsuko on her quest. He is hilarious and irreverent, and I would often burst into giggles when he pulled out a one-liner.
There is a definite journey of the hero here, and Mitsuko performs admirably. She pulls out extraordinary acts of bravery throughout the story, facing down a lot of adventures that would have left me, quite frankly, running for cover. At one point in the story she does break down - and, no spoilers here - it meant so much when it happened. I thought, "My god, look how far she's come, and I didn't even realize it was happening." The story was masterfully pulled together so the character development happened completely naturally. It's amazing to me how much punch young adult novels are able to put into so few pages.
I cannot tell you how much the ending affected me. Seriously, this is a young adult book! It's only 200 pages long! How attached could I possibly become to these characters? But I was, I was. I started blubbering at the last page, and typed within moments of finishing: "Oh my god. I just finished this about a minute ago. I burst into tears and walked blindly over to my computer to say Yes, yes, take all of the stars."
This was a great adventure novel that transcends the genre and ages. It is out of print and so might be a little hard to get a hold of, but if you do ever get a copy, I hope you love it as much as I did.