Sunday, May 22, 2011
The Friendship Doll
by Kirby Larson
Delacorte Books for Young Readers (May, 2011)
Ages 9 and up
Take four stories that span more than a decade of the Great Depression, each of which captures a pivotal moment in the life of a different girl, and link them through the awakening heart of a Japanese doll—you know what you have? One of this year's most compelling books in children's literature: THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL.
Although I am an admitted fan of Kirby Larson, I am not a big fan of dolls (unless they are the wicked, mangled, creatury kind); however, by the time I reached the end of the first story, I could not put this book down. Not only does Larson breathe life into the pretentious Miss Kanagawa, one of 58 Ambassadors of Friendship sent by Japan in 1927, she breathes life into the pages of this book with a subtle element of liminal fantasy that gives each episodic tale a mesmerizing mystical quality grounded in historical authenticity.
This is no easy feat, but when it works (as this does), the payoff is huge. One of my librarian friends read the ARC of this book a couple months ago, and she was raving that it "blew [her] mind." I had no idea what she meant by this, but I do now. The book—its four part structure and seamless blending of the magical with the mundane—has a numinous quality. And the voice—the voices—so pitch perfect in each narration they lend even more authenticity to the telling as Miss. Kanagawa is passed from place to place, suffering the hardship of years and diminished circumstances—but not diminished heart.
THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL closes with a fifth story that diverges from the other four by jumping to the present day. The leap jarred me at first, mainly because the Depression-era world created by Larson in the rest of the book is so hard to leave, but I can see that the book wouldn't have worked without it. In this sense, I tend to think of it more as a perfect epilogue than an ending.
On every level, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL embodies the power of storytelling and friendship to heal and unite that which has become separated, isolated or broken. For me, there is just one thing lacking in this marvelous narrative: a cash reward for information leading to the whereabouts (or fate) of Miss Kanagawa and her missing sisters. Random House, are you listening?
Source: I bought my copy from Secret Garden Books
About my reviews:
My comments and reactions to the books I read are not so much reader-type reviews as they are my experience of the story as a writer studying the craft. I write them to examine what makes a story work.