Review: Japanese culture comes to life in Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan. Instead of starting high school, Hannah, an Australian native, is forced to accompany her mother to Japan while she investigates interesting plants. Although Hannah is not thrilled at this prospect, she is welcomed into the Maekawa family who takes her in as one of their own while her mother tours the gardens of Japan. Hannah's mother gives her the assignment to complete her correspondent work and learn 1000 kanji during the three months she is in Japan. While pursuing her studies, Hannah befriends Miki Maekawa along with Hiro, a boy in the neighborhood whose father has gone missing. It isn't long before Hannah begins to experience strange happenings a mysterious note, a ghost flinging chocolate donuts, and unexplained smoke. Hannah must make sense of all the oddities because in order to stop it all, she must help the ghost an "ocean boy" find peace.
As a study in culture, Hannah's Winter is excellent. It is filled with imagery that paints a thorough description of the many lands of Japan. Plus, the reader gains glimpses into the traditions that enrich Japanese culture. Hannah has the opportunity to take part in several traditions such as the Setsubun a bean throwing festival designed to ward off evil demons and bring in happiness. Throughout the story, Hannah must travel to shrines and gardens and seashores each time offering the reader a little more insight into Japanese life. In a humorous account, Hannah experiences school where she must go to the bathroom. "When I went into the cubicle I found what looked like a small hand basin set into the floor. Big panic
It took me so long to figure out what to do I almost missed the start of the Japanese lesson." In addition to learning about Japanese culture, the reader gains insight into Australian culture as well. Learning about the cultural differences and traditions is arguably one of the best parts of the book!
As a piece of literature, Hannah's Winter is an enjoyable read. Hannah is a very well-developed character who adds humor and sarcasm to an otherwise more serious story. Even Hannah's eccentric mother, who "talks in capitals when she's being assertive, which is most of the time" and has purple hair, is a joy though it's a shame she only appears on a few of the pages of the text. The primary story is interesting, yet it's shocking that the Japanese family doesn't seem bothered by a ghost. The author addresses this later in the story when Hannah's mother returns with a story and Hannah thinks, "This family didn't turn a hair when a ghost moved in, but Liana's adventures had them stunned." Nonetheless, it is odd that a ghost doesn't alarm the family more. In solving the mystery, the children have only an enigmatic poem as a guide. It seems at times that interpreting the poem and following through with the steps happens a little too easily. Having them work harder and really show the obvious struggle that anyone would face with a cryptic poem would have enhanced the story. It is as if they just fall into finding the next step rather than really understanding what they are doing. The secondary story of Hiro and his missing father is slightly less compelling. Everything gets tied up in the end, but in many ways it is a little too tidy. Finally, occasionally the story grows confusing with the multitude of Japanese names, terms, and places, however muddling through is worth it in the end. All in all, Hannah's Winter is a solid debut novel for Kierin Meehan who combined mystery, paranormal, and culture into one story. Readers will eagerly await more adventures with characters such as Hannah and her mother.
Special thanks to guest reviewer Margo Nauert for contributing her review of Hannah's Winter.
Acknowledgment: Kane/Miller provided a copy of Hannah's Winter for this review.
Review Copyright © 2009 — Margo Nauert — All Rights Reserved
Reprinted with Permission
Location(s) referenced in Hannah's Winter: Japan
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Hannah's Winter by Kierin Meehan
Publication Date: March 2009
List Price: $15.95