Cover image for The blossom and the firefly
The blossom and the firefly
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310 pages : illustration ; 22 cm.
Japan 1945. Taro is a talented violinist and a kamikaze pilot in the days before his first and only mission. He believes he is ready to die for his country . . . until he meets Hana. Hana hasn't been the same since the day she was buried alive in a collapsed trench during a bomb raid. She wonders if it would have been better to have died that day . . . until she meets Taro. A song will bring them together. The war will tear them apart. Is it possible to live an entire lifetime in eight short days?


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Japan 1945. Taro is a talented violinist and a kamikaze pilot in the days before his first and only mission. He believes he is ready to die for his country . . . until he meets Hana. Hana hasn't been the same since the day she was buried alive in a collapsed trench during a bomb raid. She wonders if it would have been better to have died that day . . . until she meets Taro.

A song will bring them together. The war will tear them apart. Is it possible to live an entire lifetime in eight short days?

Sherri L. Smith has been called "an author with astonishing range" and "a stellar storyteller" by E. Lockhart, the New York Times -bestselling author of We Were Liars , and "a truly talented writer" by Jacqueline Woodson, the National Book Award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming . Here, with achingly beautiful prose, Smith weaves a tale of love in the face of death, of hope in the face of tragedy, set against a backdrop of the waning days of the Pacific War.

Author Notes

Sherri L. Smith was born in Chicago, Illinois. Her first book, Lucy the Giant, was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults in 2003. Her other books include Sparrow, Orleans, The Toymaker's Apprentice, and Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet. Flygirl won the California Book Award Gold Medal.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

This absorbing historical novel, set in Japan during eight days in 1945, thrusts two teens in the midst of war into a charged romance. The alternating narration follows the first-person account of 15-year-old Hana, a former student who serves as a maid to pilots on the military training base in her hometown of Chiran, and--via a third-person point of view--16-year-old violin virtuoso turned air cadet Taro, who trains as a kamikaze pilot. Flashbacks offer insight into prewar Japan, the war's origins, and the upbringing of both main characters. Each protagonist's impending sense of mortality heightens the atmosphere. Hana, who was recently buried for an hour after a bombing, struggles with posttraumatic feelings of detachment; Taro stifles anxiety as he prepares to fly his plane into a target, and then must deal with isolation and shame after a missed attempt. The characters notice each other when Hana hears Taro play his violin, and Smith (Pasadena) capably sketches their attraction and courtship. Though the end feels a bit tidy, the novel--rich with Japanese cultural details (kimono, gifts of salted plums) and a sense of place--ably portrays the stakes of war and love. Ages 12--up. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Feb.)

Horn Book Review

Almost buried alive in a bombing by Allied forces in 1945 Chiran, Japan, fifteen-year-old Hana feels as though she is already dead, just going through the motions. Since the bombing, girls her age have been assigned to the Nadeshiko unit; their job is to care for and send the tokk (special attack pilots, or kamikaze) off to their deaths. In an alternating narrative, seventeen-year-old Taro is prepared to die for Japan, his death bringing more honor and glory for his family than his skill in playing the violin, or his life, ever could. When their paths cross, Taros violin-playing revives Hanas appreciation for life as well as joyful memories, especially of her koto-playing father, now fighting in the war. When their connection deepens into love, Taro wonders if his feelings will jeopardize his resolve in completing his mission, while Hanas heart breaks knowing Taros seemingly inevitable fate. Through meticulous research, Smith immerses her readers in a war narrative not often told to American readers, as well as a tension-filled love story. Smith does not shy away from the horrific consequences of war and its victims; the novel encompasses comfort women; Asian countries affected by Japanese imperialism; and ritual suicide. The imagery of the title evokes the Japanese code of bushido and the fleeting beauty of existence. A map, glossary, authors note, and bibliography of both Japanese history in World War II and contemporary Japanese culture are appended. Ariana Hussain March/April 2020 p.89(c) Copyright 2020. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Review

Hope and affection bloom between a schoolgirl and a pilot in this bittersweet narrative set in Japan during the final months of World War II.Fifteen-year-old Hana is a member of a youth war group that tends to the tokk, or special attack pilots, stationed at the Chiran Army Air Force Base. The girls do the pilots' laundry, serve them meals, and line the runway to send them off on their deadly flights. Since nearly being buried alive during an air raid, Hana moves through each day as though already claimed by deathuntil one afternoon when she hears the sound of a violin for the first time. Seventeen-year-old Taro is a tokk committed to defending his country at the cost of his own life, but he cannot abandon his love of music and takes comfort in practicing his instrument. Despite the traumas of war and the demands of duty, a chance encounter between the two leads to a connection that tethers them to each other. Smith's (Pasadena, 2016, etc.) thorough research is evident in the details that immerse readers in Hana's and Taro's lives. Their stories unfold at a measured pace; short chapters build readers' anticipation and keep the pages turning. Romanized Japanese words are used throughout the text, grounding the novel in its setting.A pensive depiction of young love and endurance amid wartime uncertainty. (map, author's note, glossary, selected bibliography) (Historical fiction. 13-18) Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

In 1945 Japan, Hana and Taro are dealing with the horrors of war, Hana by working to support the soldiers, and Taro by preparing himself to die for his country as a kamikaze pilot. The teens meet just before Taro's assigned mission, and they find comfort and understanding in each other. Chapters alternate between Hana's and Taro's perspectives and frequently include flashbacks to the years before the war. Music was integral to their lives then, and both wonder how it will fit into their existence if they survive. Smith's beautifully written book examines the strength and limits of patriotism, while also being a quiet portrait of deep love. Moments between Hana and Taro capture both an intense, youthful longing and the wisdom of recognizing their connection will live beyond these fleeting encounters. This is the kind of high-stakes love story that will leave readers stressed and sighing in equal measure, yet grateful to have seen the portrait of these two lives.--Molly Horan Copyright 2020 Booklist



Chapter One: Hana Japan 1945 My father's voice wakes me--thick as wool, slightly scratchy. "Get up, Hana. It's time to get going." Music fills the room in a cresting wave. He must be playing the koto again. Then a hand rocks my shoulder gently. I roll onto my back, flat on my futon, and open my eyes. There is no music. And I remember: my father has gone off to war. My mother is there, kneeling beside me. She pours hot water from a kettle onto a fresh towel in the washbasin. "Quickly now. Don't make Sensei wait." She slips out of the room, and I lie there staring at the ceiling. Wooden slats, darkness. The sun will rise soon. I get up. I roll my futon into a bundle, then push it into the closet. I kneel by the basin and unravel the hot towel with burning fingertips. Steam rises off of it like a sail in the wind. I drape it over my face, carefully wiping the corners of my eyes, my mouth. I breathe. Rinse the towel. Slide the cotton yukata from my shoulders to my waist and wipe my chest, my arms. They said the bruising would go away in a week or two. It's been three. What was once black and purple is now yellow and green, almost gone, but not quite. There is a stiffness that has not left me. But I no longer limp. I should be pleased. I finish my towel bath and pull my uniform from the closet. Baggy monpé pants, deep blue, gathered at the ankles and at the waist. I push aside my work shirt and retrieve the rest of my school uniform. Blue jacket. Middy blouse with rounded collar--a bit loose lately. My mother has taken it in twice already, as food has grown less plentiful, folding in the seams without cutting the cloth, tacking the excess fabric down with optimistically loose stitches. As if food and peace are on the horizon and I will need those extra inches back. For now, the cotton bunches uncomfortably beneath my arms, but we must make do. This is a season of emergencies. As was the last season. And the one before. I pull on white tabi socks, split between the big and second toe. Brush my hair in quick, long strokes and tie it into a knot at the back of my neck. In the kitchen, a rice ball and a weak cup of hot tea await me. I use the tea to wash the taste of ash and dirt from my mouth. It's there every morning now, these past three weeks, no matter how I scrape my tongue or rinse with water. The rice sticks in my throat, but I know my duty. For a week I would not eat, and I fainted on my first day back with my classmates. Now I do not faint. I swallow the rice, drink the tea. "Okā-san, I'm leaving," I call to my mother. She is in the front room, the one that contains my father's tailoring business. The morning is dim outside, the house darker still. She sits at a low cutting table, sorting through scraps of fabric too small to be of use on their own. When the sun comes up fully, she will pull back the shutters and sew the scraps together by the light of day. Something can always be made of what remains, she says. I hope she is right. "Have a good day, Hana. Give Kaori-sensei my best. And see if your farmer has any onions to trade. This patchwork would make decent pants for children." "I will, Okā-san." My mother believes I still work in the fields with my classmates, that I help the farmers indoors with their tallies, their bookkeeping--hence my clean collar, my school uniform instead of work clothes. She believes this because it is what I have told her. It's what we have been instructed to say to protect our families from worry. And the first lie I've ever told my mother. I bow, slip my feet onto my platform geta, the cloth thong tucked snugly in the notch of my tabi, and slide open the front door. There are both Western and Japanese houses here in Chiran. On the main street around the corner, many buildings have hinged doorways; some even have display windows. Covered in blackout cloth now, of course. The whole world has become darker in recent years. Lanterns at night are targets for the enemy. Mariko is waiting for me across the wide road. I avoid the splashing stream that runs along the gutter. A gray-and-white carp glides by, headed for the river. Mariko is shivering. It's chilly today. April is always unpredictable. By noon, we will be sweating, no doubt. Soon, Sachiko joins us, and Hisako, Kazuko. One by one, or in twos and threes, the eighteen girls in my unit gather on the corner. We are the girls of Chiran Junior High School. Almost identical in our dark blue uniforms, white collars tucked in to make us less visible from the air. We wear our hair in braids or ponytails to keep it off our faces as we work. Sensei arrives and claps us to attention. The sky is turning pearly gray. Shops are beginning to open their windows. Chiran is waking up. Everyone needs to take advantage of the daylight while it lasts. And then we hear the rumble of the truck. And our workday begins. The brakes argue with the road as the truck stops in front of my class. One by one, we climb into the back. They no longer pick us up at the junior high. The school is a hospital now. Our teacher enters last, pausing to catch her slipping geta so it doesn't fall into the road, and shuts the truck gate with both hands. We slide down the wooden bench and she sits. The truck complains an old man's gripe of grinding bones and dry joints, and lurches forward. It runs up the rutted road, squeak-jostling at every bump, our young bodies flying up and down, as though on horseback. Mariko huddles against me for warmth, though the humidity is slowly rising. The road dwindles, leaving behind the roar of the river, the old samurai houses with their stone walls topped by high green hedges and tidy gardens framing the rolling peak of Hahagatake. The low-slung village homes built of disapproving wood, stained dark with age and rain. The countryside is ripe with the familiar scent of kuromatsu pine and cherry trees--with fewer blossoms now. We have to harvest at the shrine these days. We pass tea and sweet potato fields, climbing the gentle slope to Chiran Army Air Force Base. The sun is about to rise. We arrive at the base and tumble out of the truck bed, clap our palms twice on the back door to let the driver know we are free of the wheels. The truck grumbles forward, pulling for home. We pause a moment, chattering like birds, like acolytes calling down a blessing of normalcy for the day. And then we begin. We pinch each other's cheeks for color, comb the dust and leaves from our black hair. Only our youth keeps our cheeks plump and glowing. Beneath our thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years, we are old women with youthful, useful bones. Sensei claps for our attention. We don our best smiles and clip-clop like trained ponies to the runway. We scoop our arms full of cherry blossoms, the branches showing like black bones through the creamy pink flesh, like starving women, once great beauties, with some beauty still. The pink-and-white petals fall like sighs, like hopeless love in a movie, in a song. We line the pitted runway, treacherous in our wooden shoes, their raised soles marking the dusty gravel with soft equal signs. We are equal to the task. We are Japan. The Tokkō Tai appear, olive uniforms sharply creased, flight jackets left behind. They won't need them where they are going. Their duty keeps them warm. Saké is poured. Toasts raised. The generals give their speeches; the boys say their prayers. We accept their offerings. Gifts and letters. We offer courage in return. We are the future of Japan. These are our warriors. They will save us. The boys mount the steps to their aeroplanes, climbing toward heaven. The girls wave goodbye. The girls wave goodbye. The girls wave goodbye. Until there is no one left. Excerpted from The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.