the gods lie. by Kaori Ozaki, translated by Melissa Tanaka
As cranky and cynical as I can be – especially as an impatient reader, ahem – every once in a (long) while, I come across a title that gets me all choked up and sighing like a moony adolescent. Perhaps I’m going soft in old age after an insane week, but this one sure drew me in – tears, palpitations, extra-long exhales included.
Natsuru, 11, is still relatively new at school. He lives with his writer mother, likes playing soccer, notices that girls usually don’t talk to him, but that might be because he almost immediately rebuffed the sweet advances – complete with an offer of French chocolates – of the class queen bee everyone calls ‘princess.’ The one girl who turns his head is Rio, a precociously tall classmate who is so not like the other chatty, clique-y posse.
A stray kitten, his mother’s allergies, an evening run-in with heavy groceries, and a skipped soccer camp unexpectedly bring Natsuru and Rio – together with Rio’s adorably rambunctious younger brother Yuuta – under the same ramshackle roof for a few days of summer vacation. Natsu’s mother thinks he’s playing ball. Rio’s father has been gone for months working in Alaska. Without adults, the three children – plus Tofu the kitty and Benz the stag beetle – become an unexpected family-of-sorts. But reality means they can’t stay together forever, especially when Natsu discovers a secret that could never stay buried.
Kaori Ozaki, whose only other Stateside transplant thus far is the Immortal Rain series, takes on first love with heart-melting vulnerability. Both children face difficult situations – so very much not of their making – and yet somehow they manage to be kind, thoughtful souls who are in many ways, more aware, more mature, and certainly more caring than the adults in their lives. Ozaki’s characterizations showcase the children’s sweet innocence, with expressions of such joy and heartbreak throughout.
The final promise of “We’ll see each other again” might be meant for the characters, but sappy, sniffly readers (like me!) sure wouldn’t mind such assurance either! Here’s hoping to see more of Ozaki’s work on these distant shores.
Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult
Published: 2013 (Japan), 2016 (United States)