Hisako’s Mysteries

Book: Hisako’s Mysteries
Author: Yoshiko Uchida
Illustrator: Susan Bennett
Publisher: Scribner, 1969
ISBN-13: 978-0684209647
ISBN-10: 0684209640
Language level:
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 10-14
Rating: **** 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
Disclosure: Many publishers and/or authors provide copies of their books in exchange for an honest review without requiring a positive opinion. Any books donated to Home School Book Review for review purposes are in turn donated to a library. No other compensation has been received for the reviews posted on Home School Book Review.
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Uchida, Yoshiko. Hisako’s Mysteries (published in 1969 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York City, NY). Thirteen year old Hisako lives in Kyoto, Japan, with her grandfather, a seventy-five year old former history professor at Kyoto University and lute player, and grandmother. She was born in 1955, and her mother died then. She has been told that her father, an artist who painted western-style oil paintings, died of pneumonia when she was two. Hisako is happy, but suddenly, around her thirteenth birthday, several mysteries arise. She finds a mysterious letter in a closet which implies that her father was still alive when she was four. Then she receives a gift of a 1000 yen note from an unknown donor on her birthday. Also, as she plans to visit Tokyo with the family of her friend Fusa, Grandmother’s maid Hana gives her an old picture of a man and tells her to look out for him but won’t explain who he is.

While in Tokyo, Hisako stays with her Aunt Miwa, Uncle Sei, and Cousin Yuki, and one day a strange man, Araki San, does visit them, but the photograph is so old that she cannot tell if it is Hana’s friend or not. After getting back to Kyoto, Hisako is involved in an accident and must spend some time in the hospital, and one day the strange man visits her there. Who is he? And how are all these mysteries linked to Grandmother’s and Grandfather’s discomfiture at the mention of Hisako’s supposedly “dead” father? Hisako’s Mysteries is a rather quiet, unassuming story that makes for a nice, simple read and should appeal especially to girls aged 10-14. There is very little objectionable—a few references to smoking a pipe and drinking beer or wine. So it would make a great literature complement to a study of modern Japan.

I was especially interested in the comments of one reader reviewer. “The truly striking thing about Hisako’s childhood is that she is so much like myself, really, and I am of European descent, grew up in the Midwest. It never occurred to me that people were ‘different’ — she seemed so real and normal to me, and though small parts of her culture were clearly different…I knew and understood Hisako and she never felt foreign to me. Hisako feels about her friends, school, her life like any girl growing up anywhere, even to her being caught between her grandparents’ traditional ideals and her desire for that which is modern, progressive, forward-thinking. For instance, the three of them sleep on a futon. Hisako wants a regular (western-style) bed, and it struck me, decades later, when every college student and young person starting out was getting a futon instead of a couch AND bed, I wondered what fictional Hisako would think, this completion of the cycle from old to new back to ‘new’ old again. People are people…. When we’re plagued with reading material directed at that age group like ‘Sweet Valley High’ (oh, gag) it’s nice to remember that not everyone is a boy-obsessed blond cheerleader in a fictional perfect town in California.”

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