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Books in Brief: The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary

CHILDREN’s

The Night Parade by Kathryn Tanquary; Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 330 pages $16.99. Ages 10 and up.

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This marvelous original debut novel, inspired by Japanese mythology and spookily reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s terrifying “Coraline,” comes from an author who was born in Portland, Ore., taught English to junior high school students in Japan for many years and now lives in Tokyo. Tanquary skillfully creates a parallel reality of a Japanese mountain village in contemporary Japan vs. an unseen night world of spirits, set against the soul-deadening reality of mean girls in junior high school. Saki Yamamoto is reluctant to spend her summer vacation away from her friends in Tokyo for a visit to her grandmother in her boring mountain village with no A.C. and terrible cellphone reception. As the novel begins, Saki is a pathetic character, focused entirely on being popular with the in crowd. The family is still grieving the death of Saki’s grandfather, who tended the family’s mountainside ancestral shrine. It’s the time of the Obon festival, and Saki, sent to clip a fresh tree branch for the ceremonial fire, lazily instead brings back a lesser branch for the fire. An encounter with some local kids ends in an incident disrespecting her family’s shrine and the ringing of the sacred bell, invoking a death curse. Saki has three nights to prove she is worthy, or someone in her family will die. Tanquary does a marvelous job crafting this parallel spirit world, the distinctive personalities of the spirit guides, the strange creatures of the night (grasshopper soldiers, a slug spirit who lost her shell in a filthy outhouse guarded by a ghoul) as Saki embarks upon a heroic, often-confusing quest to revoke the curse with the help of some surprising allies. There is plenty of humor amid the poignant moments and terrifying ones as Saki gets a chance to prove her worth.

– Jean Westmoore